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CDC advisers back broad rollout of new COVID boosters

New COVID-19 vaccines received the backing of a panel of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday. The shots will be available across the country later this week.
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New COVID-19 vaccines received the backing of a panel of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday. The shots will be available across the country later this week.

A panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed the broad use of new COVID-19 vaccines, as cases of the respiratory illness rise.

The advisers voted 13-1 to recommend the vaccines for people ages 6 months and older. While the benefits appear to be greatest for the oldest and youngest people, the benefits of vaccination exceed the risks for everyone, according to a CDC analysis.

The universal recommendation, as opposed to one that applies to selected groups, could ease the rollout of the vaccine and improve access and equity.

"Let's keep America strong, healthy," said Dr. Camille Kotton, a panel member who voted in favor of the recommendation and who is an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School. "Let's do away with COVID-19 as best we can by prevention of disease through vaccines. Let's make things clear."

The Food and Drug Administration gave the go-ahead to vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Monday. A new vaccine from Novavax is under FDA review and may be approved soon.

The new vaccines target a much more recent variant of the omicron strain called XBB.1.5 that was selected by the FDA in June for use in formulating new vaccines. The idea, akin to how flu vaccines are made, is to match a seasonal vaccine to the virus that is infecting people.

Since the FDA's decision, other variants have overtaken XBB.1.5, but laboratory data suggest the new vaccines should provide good protection against COVID-19, including serious illness, hospitalization and death. The new shots can bolster immunity from previous vaccinations and COVID illness.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the CDC accepted the recommendation of its advisers. "We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19," said CDC Director Mandy Cohen. "CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones."

The new shots could become available as soon as Wednesday in some parts of the country. They're not technically free anymore, but for most people insurance will pay for them. The federal government will make the shots available for the uninsured at no cost.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley
Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.
Rob Stein
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.