Top health officials in the US are making plans for a new updated Covid vaccine to be rolled out this winter.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed Monday it is holding a public meeting in May to discuss whether updates to the current crop of vaccines is necessary — and which variant should be included in next winter’s dose.

Currently, the most common strain is JN.1 that is not targeted by the previous booster which inoculated against XBB.1.5 — though there is still some cross-over protection.

The agency said: ‘The FDA anticipates that changes to the vaccine composition may need to be made based on the currently circulating strains of the [Covid] virus.’

Officials believe that the Covid vaccine will need to be updated every year, like with flu shots, in order to shore-up protection against emerging variants.

The US is deciding on the composition of next winter's Covid vaccine (stock pic)

The US is deciding on the composition of next winter’s Covid vaccine (stock pic)

The currently dominant variant is JN.1, which is behind nearly all cases (It is shown as the purple area in the pie charts for each region of the US)

The currently dominant variant is JN.1, which is behind nearly all cases (It is shown as the purple area in the pie charts for each region of the US)

It is likely the shot will be recommended for every American over the age of six months, despite many experts arguing they are only necessary for those aged 75 years and older or those who have underlying conditions.

It comes amid surging vaccine skepticism across the US. 

Data shows only forty percent of people aged 75 years and older — who are most at risk from the virus — got the updated shots last year. Across those over 18 years old, barely 20 percent came forward for the new Covid vaccine.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) — a 16-member committee that decides on vaccine composition — will hold the meeting.

The agency added: ‘Barring any new major changes to circulating virus, the FDA expects that the composition of Covid vaccines may need to be updated annually — as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine.’ 

The committee is not expected to make a recommendation until June this year, with vaccine companies like Pfizer and Moderna then asked to update their shots.

They do this by switching the Covid spike protein — or virus protein used to invade cells — that their mRNA vaccines cause cells to build, training the immune system to recognize a new variant.

Like last year, the vaccines are not expected to be federally funded — and will instead be covered by the private market.

It is not clear what level of efficacy against hospitalization the new shots may need to show in trials, but for the flu vaccine — which is updated every year — this can be as low as 40 percent in some years. 

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will then approve the new shots — which will then likely be rolled out in September.

Officials expect to update Covid vaccines annually to match a new variant, in a similar way to how the flu shots are updated.

The above graph shows uptake for last year's Covid booster by age group, with the over-75s, who are also most at risk, being most likely to get the shots

The above graph shows uptake for last year’s Covid booster by age group, with the over-75s, who are also most at risk, being most likely to get the shots

The same committee also updates the flu shot, and makes its recommendation based on the flu variant dominant in the southern hemisphere — which has its winter when the US has its summer.

Vaccines slash the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid by more than 90 percent, although they may not be able to stop someone developing an infection.

Immunity works against new Covid variants because of ‘cross-protection’ — with the immune system still able to recognize other proteins on the new variant and launch a response. 

Covid cases in the US are currently dropping with the Covid test positivity rate — proportion of tests that pick up the virus — now at 8.1 percent nationwide for last week, compared to 9.4 percent for the previous seven-day spell.

Hospitalizations are also trending downward with 18,977 new admissions recorded last week, down 12 percent from the 20,100 seven days earlier. And deaths are also falling.

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