WASHINGTON, D.C. — The clock is ticking for when new COVID boosters may become available for Americans. As the weather turns cooler in the coming months, more people are expected to head indoors, which increases the chances COVID could spread more easily.
"The drier weather and the colder air there may promote transmission. So, we have to be prepared for that in advance,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and executive director of PHICOR (Public Health Informatics, Computational and Operations Research). He is also a senior contributor to Forbes magazine.
Dr. Lee said there are concerns about booster fatigue.
"Having a vaccine once a year, we're used to that when it comes to the flu vaccine,” he said, “but more often than that, you know, that might cause logistical challenges – and people may not be as willing to get a vaccine as frequently."
COVID vaccination rates vary wildly, depending on what state you live in. According to the CDC, Rhode Island leads the way with 85% of its residents fully vaccinated. Maryland comes in at number 9 with 77%, and Colorado ranks 16 with 71% of residents fully vaccinated.
Further down the list, Florida comes in at number 22 with 68%, and Arizona ranks 30 with 63% of its residents fully vaccinated.
Wyoming ranks last with 51%.
It's an ongoing issue because COVID variants keep emerging, though White House officials say the upcoming boosters— which would target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants — are a marked improvement from what is available now.
"These are substantial upgrades in our vaccines in terms of their ability to prevent infection, to prevent transmission, certainly to prevent serious illness and death," said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.
While the U.K. approved the new Moderna booster, the U.S. has yet to formally approve any new boosters. Pfizer just presented its booster to the FDA for approval.
“The manufacturer, Pfizer or Moderna, has to present all the trial data that they have accumulated, as well as any other data that from other studies, from other sources, and the FDA then will review this," Dr. Lee said.
Some manufacturers might have started producing the vaccine ahead of approval, but more needs to still be produced.
"They've managed to cut it down to like 90 to 100 days, in terms of doing the whole manufacturing run to produce the vaccine,” Dr. Lee said, "but there's a certain amount that's needed to actually produce the vaccine."
That raises questions about whether the U.S. will have all the booster doses needed by the mid-September timeframe set by the White House. Health experts say the sooner they're available, the better.
"One of the challenges throughout this pandemic is there's been more reactivity rather than proactivity,” Dr. Lee said. "It's better to try to prevent surges from happening or outbreaks from happening in the first place."