Washington, D.C.—How the United States will manage COVID-19 in the future is beginning to take shape, and pharmacists—as expected—will continue to be key players.

At a White House briefing on SARS-CoV-2 earlier this month, speakers suggested the COVID-19 vaccines would likely become annual for most Americans—much like annual influenza shots.

"In the absence of a dramatically different variants, we likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population," posited Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden. Dr. Fauci also added that some especially vulnerable groups might continue the need more frequent boosters.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, pointed out that for the first time with the bivalent boosters recently granted Emergency Use Authorization, the vaccines match the variant of the Omicron strain that is currently dominating over the other strains.

The updated boosters, which received sign-off from the FDA and CDC, target both the original coronavirus strain and the currently circulating Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5.

Both Drs. Fauci and Jha cited trial data indicating that the new products should yield better protection against both infection and transmission, as well as more lasting protection against severe illness. They added that those assurances could be upended by a new variant that significantly upends vaccine effectiveness.

As of the beginning of the month, BA.5 made up more than 88% of coronavirus specimens and BA.4 accounted for more than 11%, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, stated at the briefing.

"For the first time since December of 2020, these vaccines, our vaccines, have caught up with the virus," Dr. Jha added. "Barring those variant curveballs, for a large majority of Americans we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year."

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