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The Food and Drug Administration is poised to approve new COVID boosters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We think the Food and Drug Administration is about to approve a new set of COVID-19 booster shots.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And this brings up a lot of questions. Who should get another booster? When? And how well will the new shots work?

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has answers, as best we know them. Hey there, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just want to note I had to, like, kind of scratch my head and try even to remember when I got the last COVID booster. Can you remind us how this one fits in?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. I totally lost count of how many shots I've gotten and when. The new boosters are updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. They're formulated to help people fight off a relatively recent omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5. The idea is the new shots will shore up people's fading immunity as we head into the winter.

INSKEEP: So who should get another shot?

STEIN: Yeah. So the FDA is expected to OK the new boosters any day now for the same people who've been eligible for the COVID shots - anyone aged 6 months and older. Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would very quickly issue recommendations for exactly who should get boosted. You know, Steve, it seems pretty likely that the CDC will recommend the shots for those COVID can really be the most dangerous, like, you know, older people and those with other health problems. We'll have to see what the CDC says about younger or otherwise healthy people, including kids.

Some outside experts I've been talking to say everyone should get another booster, you know, to cut their chances of getting COVID and the risk of winding up in the hospital or dying. Here's Deepta Bhattacharya from the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

DEEPTA BHATTACHARYA: COVID-19 is not a pleasant thing to get, even if you're not at particularly high risk of getting really sick. And so to the extent that the vaccines reduce that chance - and I'm pretty sure they will - then again, unless you have got some really compelling reason not to get it, you should probably go ahead and get it.

STEIN: Others say the focus should really be on those most vulnerable and just be an option for everyone else, since most people are still pretty well protected against getting seriously ill from COVID. But, you know, Steve, one big question is how popular will these new shots be. Most people never got the last one.

INSKEEP: OK, so we've been hearing about new variants. You mentioned one of them. I think it's not the only one. What's known?

STEIN: Yeah. So, you know, one way to start thinking about these vaccines is like the flu shots. Every year, we get flu shots that have been updated based on the best guess about which viruses are most likely to be infecting people the following fall and winter. Some years it's a good match. Other years, not so much. The federal government picked the strain for these new COVID boosters in the spring. The bad news is that strain's been replaced by newer evolutions of omicron that spread even easier. The good news is the new shots seem a close enough match to still do a decent job, even against the latest variant raising the most concerns.

INSKEEP: Should people think very hard about the timing if they do get a booster?

STEIN: Yeah. You know, so the new shots will become available at doctors' offices and drugstores pretty quickly after the FDA announcement and the CDC recommendations. And the CDC has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow to make those marching orders. We'll have to see what the CDC says about exactly when people should get the jabs and how long to wait after the last shot or infection. Some experts I've been talking to say people should get a shot as soon as a couple or three months later. Others say wait four to six. And some people may wait to try to time it to when they are most likely to catch the virus, like, you know, when they're traveling and visiting people over the holidays.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Stein, thanks.

STEIN: You bet, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.