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FDA authorizes new boosters targeting omicron


The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first reformulated versions of COVID-19 vaccines. And advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meet today to decide how they should be used. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: The new shots are the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines 2.0. They've been reprogrammed to help people fight off the super contagious omicron sub-variants driving the pandemic. Federal health officials say the new shots will boost people's fading immunity and help protect them against another wave of infections that could sweep the country this fall and winter. Here's Dr. Peter Marks from the FDA.

PETER MARKS: We are looking at a possible fall wave with a peak around December 1. And by giving the booster now, we will hopefully both control the current plateau that we're in, as well as address this future potential wave that looms out there.

STEIN: John Wherry at the University of Pennsylvania thinks the new boosters will cut the chances of catching and spreading the virus, protecting people against COVID and long COVID.

JOHN WHERRY: This is great. We have updated boosters that are better tailored to address the viral strains that are present currently. The bottom line is that when you get a boost with these updated boosters, you're going to gain some protection from infection. You're going to protect those around you and enhance our ability to return to a new normal.

STEIN: But some experts doubt the new shots will be much of an improvement and say there's no way to really know how well they work because they were only tested in mice, not people. John Moore is an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.

JOHN MOORE: The public shouldn't think that it's going to give them some super strong shield against infection.

STEIN: But federal officials are confident the shots are safe and could provide longer lasting protection and even help fight off some new variants that might emerge. The FDA says anyone age 12 and older can get a booster when they start to become available over the Labor Day weekend, as long as it's been at least two months since their last shot. But some experts say people should wait at least four months or the new shots won't work. The CDC advisers meeting today will recommend exactly how to use them, including who should get the shots. Should it be anyone age 12 and older, or maybe, at least initially, just people at high risk because they're older or have other health problems?

Rob Stein, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTHCAPE'S "STATIC THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.