Why The FDA Is Considering An Annual COVID Vaccine Approach

In order to determine the composition of each year's flu vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) orchestrates a biannual consultation within the scientific community to assess surveillance and laboratory data, as well as recent clinical trials (via U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This information, in addition to expert recommendations, is considered to determine which viral components will be used in that year's flu vaccine to target currently-circulating strains.

As outlined in a FDA briefing document regarding future COVID-19 vaccination regimens, health officials suggest taking a similar approach to the influenza vaccine and implementing annual COVID-19 vaccination. The briefing was released publicly on Monday, reports CNN. The proposed plan is to analyze data regarding currently-circulating strains of COVID-19 every June to select the vaccine's viral components for the upcoming fall season, as per the briefing. In doing so, experts state that the goal is to simplify the vaccination process by creating a routine immunization schedule and develop a uniform vaccine composition to be used for primary series and booster doses for that year.

The potential effects of changing vaccine strategy

While most individuals who opt to get vaccinated are expected to only require one dose, those most vulnerable to severe cases of infection, such as the elderly or those with compromised immunity, may require two doses, as outlined in the briefing. Overall, the FDA states that streamlining the COVID-19 vaccination process will likely have far-reaching effects, including reduced vaccine administration errors, increased rates of vaccination, simplified communication, and the overall enhancement of public health.

However, some experts have voiced concerns regarding whether annual COVID vaccination is advisable for everyone. One such expert is Dr. Paul Offit, one of the FDA's advisers and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit explained to The New York Times that changes to vaccine strategy should be carefully considered only after detailed data has been gathered specific to vulnerable populations. "How old are they? What are their comorbidities? When was the last dose of vaccine they got? Did they take antiviral medicines?" Dr. Offit stated via the publication. "I'm choosing to believe that [the FDA] are open to advice, and that they haven't already made up their minds as to exactly what they're going to do."