New vaccines arrive as US braces for Covid surge this fall & winter

    Pankaj Sharma
    September17/ 2023
    Last Updated:

    New Delhi: As the world started to lead a normal life after three years of the pandemic and its heavy toll, the US is once again grappling with a new set of Covid-19 variants. The late-summer surge in Covid cases has affected schools, workplaces and local governments as the number of hospitalisations continues to rise.

    The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week recommended that everyone 6 months and older get an updated Covid-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of illness this fall and winter.

    Updated Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were set to be made available later this week.

    “Vaccination remains the best protection against Covid-19 related hospitalisation and death. Vaccination also reduces your chance of suffering the effects of long Covid, which can develop during or following acute infection and last for an extended duration,” said CDC in its fresh update.

    The virus that causes Covid-19 is always changing, and protection from vaccines declines over time.

    “We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from Covid-19,” said CDC Director Mandy Cohen.

    Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved newly-formulated Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that are more closely targeted to current variants of the disease.

    The new Covid vaccines target the XBB.1.5 variant, which was dominant when vaccine makers began to formulate and test a new version.

    They are monovalent because, unlike the earlier boosters, they do not include protection against the original virus that caused widespread infections three years ago.

    “Covid-19 remains a leading cause of death in the US and poses a significant threat to vulnerable populations, particularly as we enter peak respiratory virus season. As the primary circulating strain continues to evolve, updated vaccines will be critical to protecting the population this season,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel had said in a statement.

    Moderna said that its updated Covid-19 vaccine contains spike proteins for the XBB.1.5 sublineage of SARS-CoV-2 to help prevent the disease in individuals 6 months of age and older.

    The new vaccines arrived as the US saw a 16 per cent jump in the SARS-CoV-2 virus-related hospitalisations.

    The CDC data last week showed an increase in hospitalisation — a trend that began rising in late July.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) also warned of “concerning trends” for Covid ahead of winter.

    While there is not currently a single dominant Covid variant worldwide, the EG.5 Omicron subvariant is on the rise. The highly mutated BA.2.86 subvariant has also been detected in 11 countries.

    In the US, health officials are urging people to get vaccinated as soon as the shots are available, amid growing concerns about the effects that the triple threat of respiratory viruses — coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus — may have this fall and winter season.

    “Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of Covid-19, including hospitalisation and death,” said Dr Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

    Looking ahead, “barring the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant, the FDA anticipates that the composition of Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine,” according to the FDA.