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CDC advisers will meet to consider who should get the new COVID booster

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration has given the OK to a new round of vaccines against COVID-19. The shots will be available for anybody six months and older. Today, a federal advisory vaccine committee with the Centers for Disease Control is meeting to talk about the rollout of these new boosters, which could be available in pharmacies later this week. NPR's Maria Godoy tells us more about them.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: The newest COVID boosters are updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. They're designed to target a relatively recent omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5. But since the FDA chose to target that strain, other subvariants have become more prevalent. Andrew Pekosz is a virologist at Johns Hopkins. He says the new boosters are a close enough match that they should offer protection against these variants, too.

ANDREW PEKOSZ: So when you get vaccinated, the vast majority of the antibodies your body generate should cross-react to the variants that are circulating right now.

GODOY: As we head into the winter with COVID cases rising, the question is who should get the boosters? Today, the CDC's vaccine advisory panel meets to answer that question. It's expected to make specific recommendations for who should get the shot. Experts agree the boosters are most critical for people age 65 and older, those who are immunocompromised or have other underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe disease from COVID. Here's immunologist John Moore from Weill Cornell Medical College.

JOHN MOORE: If you are in poor health and have an acknowledged preexisting condition that puts you at risk of severe COVID, then you are a priority group for getting an additional round of protection from a vaccine booster.

GODOY: As for people who are young and otherwise healthy, while these groups are not considered to be at high risk of severe disease, many experts I spoke with say getting a booster is still a good idea. One of them is Dr. Preeti Malani, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan.

PREETI MALANI: From my standpoint, I feel that COVID boosters are a good thing for everyone, and the reasons are multiple. One of them is that even if you're not preventing illness, you're going to have milder illness in general.

GODOY: And she says boosters may reduce the risk of passing on the virus to more vulnerable people. Moderna and Pfizer say they have ample supplies of their vaccines, which will probably be available later this week, but it's not clear how many people will actually opt to get the new boosters. The vast majority of Americans never got the last one.

Maria Godoy, NPR News.

MARTIN: Coming up this afternoon on All Things Considered, President Biden often declares his support for unions, but the United Auto Workers is not returning the love right now. To hear the story, stream NPR on your smartphone or computer or listen on the radio.

(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.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.