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Second COVID-19 boosters for those under 50 on hold

COVID-19 shots waiting to be delivered.Toru Hanai/Bloomberg

Federal officials say they have been discussing the idea of authorizing second COVID-19 booster shots for adults under 50 as a way to bolster the public’s protection as the Omicron BA.5 subvariant spreads.

But some media reports suggest the proposal has been placed on hold as the Biden administration pushes to make new, reformulated booster shots available sooner in the fall.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, has said the decision would be made by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Friday, at a White House news briefing, he said the idea of second boosters for those under 50 was “something the FDA is continuing to examine. They have not made a determination that that is something that is warranted. And we really do follow the FDA guidelines on these things.”

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An FDA spokeswoman said Tuesday in an e-mail the agency was “evaluating the current situation,” including a recent rise in hospitalizations nationally, “and will make decisions based on the science taking into account all of the available evidence.“

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, told Washington Post Live on Friday, “We have had discussions with the FDA. They are continuing to look at those data as we are, but the first action there would have to be an action from the FDA to authorize a fourth dose.”

Some media outlets, however, are reporting that the proposal is losing momentum.

The Post, followed by other outlets, reported Friday the shots are on hold as the Biden administration tries to accelerate a fall vaccination campaign using reformulated booster shots that would target the now-dominant Omicron subvariants.

Officials are hoping vaccine makers — Moderna and Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech — are able to make the updated shots available as soon as early to mid-September instead of later in the fall, the Post reported, citing three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the issue.

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The retooled boosters will contain components from the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 as well as the original formula, which was based on the version of the virus that spread globally in early 2020. The hope is that the redesigned boosters will be more effective in dealing with an evolving virus.

In late June, FDA advisers recommended including an Omicron component in retooled boosters, and the agency directed the manufacturers to do so. The companies indicated they would probably deliver the new shots in October. But since then, officials have urged the firms to move faster. If the new boosters are available by early to mid-September, the officials said, it is unlikely the administration would authorize the plan to give a second booster to people under 50.

A final decision has not been made; officials are waiting for information from the manufacturers on whether there would be an adequate supply of reformulated shots if the fall campaign began earlier than expected. A decision is expected within days.

Currently, anyone 5 and older is eligible for one booster. Second boosters are only authorized for people 50 and older and those 12 and older with impaired immune systems. The CDC says that fewer than 1 in 3 of those who have gotten a first booster have gotten the second one.

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At a briefing two weeks ago, federal officials warned people of the BA.5 wave and urged people to get vaccinated and boosted.

Jha had a simple and clear message for those over 50, saying if they hadn’t gotten a shot yet this year, they should do it. “It could save your life,” he said. The officials also reassured people that, if they got a shot, they would still be able to get new booster shots after they arrive.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.