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U.S. official says Covid booster shots will also be free to the public

A healthcare worker administers a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to a woman at a pop-up vaccination site operated by SOMOS Community Care during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, January 29, 2021.

Mike Segar | Reuters

Covid-19 booster shots will be free to the public if they are needed to control the ongoing pandemic, David Kessler, chief science officer of the White House Covid-19 response team, told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday.

“We do have the funds to purchase the next round and to assure if there are boosters that they are free just as the last round,” Kessler said at a Senate hearing. “Beyond 2022, I look to your guidance for at what point do you transition back to a commercial market, but I think for this coming round we are going to proceed as we have proceeded,” he said.

Kessler said it is still unclear if the booster shots will be necessary to protect against future variants of the coronavirus. The U.S. is making the preparations in case they are needed, he said. Antibodies that protect against the virus wane over time and new variants that reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines “all increase the probability that booster doses may be needed,” he said.

Kessler said the U.S. needs to speed its work in developing an oral antiviral drug that can be easily distributed to help combat the virus. The U.S. has granted emergency approval of a few drugs that use antibodies to fight Covid-19, but they have to be administered via an IV drip and haven’t been widely used by health providers.

“People who are immunosuppressed, who do not mount an immune response for a number of reasons or choose not to be vaccinated will continue to be vulnerable and we need options for them,” Kessler said. “The antibody treatments are one approach, but a simple oral antiviral can add to our armamentarium to bring this epidemic under control.”

If booster shots are deemed necessary by federal health officials, seniors and people with underlying conditions would likely be the first to have access to them, as they did during the first round of vaccines.

Moderna is already running tests on a potential booster shot to be administered after a patient is fully vaccinated with both previous doses of the vaccine. The Moderna booster shot already shows promising results against the B.1.351 and P.1 variants first detected in South Africa and Brazil, respectively.

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