US approves new Covid booster vaccine amid rise in cases

Health authorities recommend people over the age of six months be immunised but vaccine uptake may be low

With new variants of interest and concern, vaccine makers say the booster will help curb severe illness and death this coming winter. Reuters
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The newly updated Covid-19 vaccine is now available for people in the US, national regulatory agencies said on Tuesday, as the country experiences a rise in cases – but uptake may be low.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone aged six months and older get the reformulated vaccine engineered to combat the XBB.1.5 variant of the virus.

The final approval by CDC director Mandy Cohen follows an advisory panel's 13-1 vote to recommend the new shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

With new competing variants of interest and concern, vaccine makers say the booster will still help curb severe illness and death this coming winter.

People in the US can be immunised as early as this week.

But interest is waning: only 17 per cent of Americans received last year's booster.

The CDC shared an August survey on Tuesday that revealed that 24.9 per cent and 17.6 per cent of US adults “definitely will” and “probably will” get the updated vaccine, respectively.

On the other hand, 13.6 per cent “probably will not” and 25.7 per cent “definitely will not” get the shot.

“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of Covid-19, including hospitalisation and death,” Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

The FDA approved the updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on Monday.

“We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated.”

Weekly hospital admissions for Covid-19 have hit a level not seen since March, according to data compiled by the CDC.

“Covid-19 burden is currently lower than at previous points in the pandemic, however the absolute number of hospitalisations and deaths is still high,” the CDC said on Tuesday.

CDC surveys have shown that 30 per cent of US adults are either very or moderately concerned about getting Covid, and half of US adults are concerned about family members getting “seriously ill”.

Elderly and immunocompromised people, as well as infants, are the most at risk from Covid, while anyone at any age who becomes ill is at risk of developing long Covid.

The US health agency's move to make a universal recommendation – instead of focusing elderly and at-risk populations like countries in Europe have done – was done to avoid complicating advisories.

This year's campaign promoting the reformulated Covid vaccine is the first to take place outside of a national health emergency, when the government covered the cost of shots.

Insured Americans will have the cost of their immunisations covered, while President Joe Biden's administration has introduced a “Bridge Access Programme” to make Covid vaccines and treatments available for uninsured people through 2024.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 8:45 AM