Newly updated COVID-19 boosters tailored to target a dominant strain of the virus will be available in the next three weeks or so, assuming the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work through their processes for authorization as expected, White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha's predicted on Tuesday.
In late June, the FDA directed Moderna and Pfizer to make vaccines for the upcoming winter that targeted the more contagious BA.5 omicron subvariant, along with the original COVID strain. That work has been underway and the next step is for the FDA and CDC to review data from the companies, once they've received it.
Neither the FDA nor the CDC has announced a timeline.
The rollout was expected sometime in September, but Jha's estimate on Tuesday was the most specific to date.
"We're going to know more about this in the upcoming weeks and these vaccines will become available by early to mid-September," Jha said at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, again including the caveat that FDA and CDC need to act before anything can be official.
"But the big picture, bottom line, is these are substantial upgrades in our vaccines," Jha said. "And those vaccines are coming very, very soon."
Jha also said that he was hopeful there will eventually be enough vaccine supply for any adult who wants a new booster to be able to get one, despite funding squabbles that forced the federal government to order only enough for the most vulnerable Americans.
"We're still working on trying to pull more resources from other places. I would like to get to a point where every adult in America who wants a vaccine can get one. I'm hopeful we will be there. We're not quite there yet in terms of how many vaccine doses we've been able to buy," Jha said.
"What's really limited us is a lack of resources, but we are pulling from other high-priority items. So my hope is that we're gonna be able to have this for every single adult in America. We will know more about that in the upcoming weeks I think," he added.
So far the U.S. has contracted for 105 million doses of the newly-updated boosters from Pfizer and 66 million doses from Moderna, the two leading COVID vaccine manufacturers for the country. Both contracts with Pfizer and Moderna include an option for hundreds of millions of more doses down the line, should the U.S. secure the money.
Between Pfizer and Moderna, if both companies were able to complete their orders, the U.S. would have about 171 million doses of the new shots. But more than 260 million Americans have had at least one vaccine dose already and would theoretically consider getting a booster.
On the other hand, demand for boosters has dropped with each campaign for people to get another shot. About 108 million people have received their first booster shot, for example.
The White House said it had pulled $5 billion to cover the cost of vaccines for this fall and winter. Between the $3.2 billion awarded to Pfizer and the $1.74 billion awarded to Moderna so far, the government has hit that ceiling.
Because fall and winter usually bring a high volume of flu cases, Jha also urged the public to get both their flu shots and updated COVID boosters as soon as they could -- or else risk a harsh winter of disease with far looser mitigation efforts than each winter of the pandemic so far.
"Our health care system is going to get into serious trouble unless we are very proactive about preventing it -- so if we do nothing and just sort of hope for the best, I think we could end up getting into a lot of trouble this fall and winter," Jha said.
People can get their flu and COVID shot on the same day, Jha noted, and he said he hopes that next year technology will have improved to the point that there's a two-in-one combination booster available for both the flu and COVID.
He also emphasized the importance of improving ventilation in businesses and schools, which was also prioritized in the latest CDC guidance issued last week.