'We need it now': Experts worry over timeline for new COVID-19 shots

Some experts are concerned that new COVID-19 shots that would be more effective at preventing severe disease from current circulating strains than the existing bivalent booster won't be ready soon enough. 

In an ideal world, the new shots targeting XBB.1.5 would be ready today, "because things are building up," Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif., told CNN in an Aug. 9 report. "We need it now."

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. have started to tick up in recent weeks, and while many experts don't anticipate the summer bump will turn into a significant surge in severe illness, a surge in infections will inevitably result in some level of increase in hospital admissions. 

The upcoming shots that target XBB.1.5 — which was the dominant variant when the FDA advised vaccine makers to alter their formulas in June — are anticipated to be effective at preventing severe disease, since the top circulating strains in the U.S. today are still closely related to XBB.1.5. 

The new shots were originally slated to be rolled out to the public by or in September, but that timeline has been pushed back to October, as regulatory agencies still need to sign off and make recommendations, Mandy Cohen, MD, CDC director, recently told NPR. Pfizer and Novovax have submitted their updated shots to the FDA for approval, though it's unclear when the signoffs could come. 

"That's an unacceptably long delay from the initial projection and expectations, especially with what has been happening with the virus's evolution. No less the timing that schools are starting soon. Too many high-risk people, because of being immunocompromised or of advanced age, will unnecessarily be vulnerable to hospitalizations or death" the longer it takes to roll out the new shots, Dr. Topol wrote in an Aug. 6 blog.


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