U.S. FDA advisers weigh need for more COVID vaccine boosters

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(Reuters) -A panel of U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers was meeting on Wednesday to discuss how and whether to use additional COVID-19 vaccine boosters after data from Israel showed a fourth dose lowered rates of severe illness among older people.

The FDA’s outside experts are not expected to vote on any specific vaccine, but the agency said their discussions could help forge a strategy for future use of booster doses.

Data presented to the panel showed that vaccines lose much of their effectiveness in preventing infections from the Omicron variant, although they were better at preventing severe disease. That could mean the composition of future boosters may need to be tweaked to align with new variants, the FDA said.

Those concerns, and data that showed waning protection of vaccines over time, drove U.S. health officials to authorize a second booster dose of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech shots for people aged 50 and older and the immunocompromised.

“This discussion today is a much larger discussion – it’s a discussion for what do we do about the entire population, and what do we do when we think the virus has evolved further,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

A fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine lowered rates of severe COVID-19 among those 60 and older but offered only short-lived additional protection against infection, the study from Israel released on Tuesday found.

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