The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Department of Defense, announced Wednesday an agreement to purchase 105 million doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
The announcement comes ahead of this fall’s vaccination campaign, as vaccine makers look to tweak their formulas to fight new strains. The $3.2 billion contract allows an option to purchase up to 300 million vaccines and also includes a mix of adult and pediatric doses. HHS expects the first delivery of doses in early fall, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration for modifications to the existing vaccine.
A new variant of the COVID-19 virus surpassed previous Delta strains in March, according to data collected by the CDC. Omicron now accounts for the majority of all U.S. Covid cases, with BA.2 being the primary strain. While it’s believed that Omicron results in less severe infections, experts suggest it is far more virulent than its predecessor and could foreshadow a surge in cases this fall.
During Tuesday’s meeting among “independent experts” on the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a majority vote determined the new strains warrant a modification to boosters. New strains have resulted in the waning effectiveness of current vaccines for the virus. The FDA advised manufacturers to update their COVID-19 vaccines to include a component for omicron BA.4/5 spike protein, according to Thursday’s press release. The FDA anticipates this year will be a “transitional period” with the introduction of this newly modified vaccine.
Head of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra maintains that vaccines still provide the best defense against any strain of the COVID-19 virus: “Vaccines have been a game-changer in our fight against COVID-19, allowing people to return to normal activities knowing that vaccines protect from severe illness.” He went on to credit the Biden-Harris administration for its efforts in making vaccines free and widely available to Americans.