Healthy Returns: What we know about the next round of Covid vaccines


Pharmacist Aaron Sun prepares Pfizer’s new Covid vaccine Comirnaty at CVS Pharmacy in Eagle Rock, California.

Irfan Khan | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

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Good afternoon! It’s almost that time of the year again.

A new round of Covid shots will likely reach Americans in the coming months. Here’s what we know about the newest vaccines so far.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday advised vaccine manufacturers to develop monovalent Covid shots targeting a highly contagious strain of the virus called JN.1 for use in the U.S. starting this fall. 

Omicron variant JN.1 first emerged in the U.S. last summer and became the dominant strain in circulation by January. But the strain accounted for only around 3% of all new U.S. cases as of Saturday, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Several spinoffs of JN.1.11.1, a direct descendant of JN.1, have since taken over as the primary strains circulating in the U.S. That includes KP.3, KP.2 and KP.1.1, which are also known as FLiRT variants

KP.3 accounted for a quarter of all new U.S. cases as of June 8, while KP.2 made up 22.5% of cases, CDC data shows. 

Federal health officials have long told Americans to expect annual updates to Covid shots as the virus churns out new strains that can dodge the immunity people have from previous vaccinations or infections — protection that also wanes over time. It’s similar to how the U.S. rolls out new flu vaccines every year. 

Here’s what the three Covid vaccine makers have said so far. 

  • Pfizer has filed for FDA approval of an updated messenger RNA Covid vaccine targeting JN.1, with the goal of making the vaccine available for the fall season pending a recommendation from the CDC, a spokesperson said. 
  • Moderna has filed for FDA approval of its own updated mRNA shot targeting JN.1, according to a release. The company said manufacturing is underway and doses of the new vaccine will be ready to ship in the U.S. as early as August.
  • Novavax expects to be ready to deliver a protein-based Covid vaccine targeting JN.1 in the U.S. in September, pending authorization from the FDA and CDC, the company said in a release

The companies each presented data last week showing that a JN.1 Covid vaccine should produce higher levels of protective antibodies against the circulating variants of the virus compared with their currently approved shots on the market targeting another omicron variant called XBB.1.5. That strain is no longer in circulation. 

Once the FDA approves their respective vaccines, the shots will need recommendations from an advisory panel to the CDC and the agency itself before they can roll out to Americans. The CDC advisory committee is scheduled to meet at the end of the month to vote on who should get the new round of vaccines this fall. 

The bigger question is, how many people are actually going to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated later this year? 

Only about 22.5% of U.S. adults received the latest round of shots that rolled out last fall, according to CDC data through early May. 

Many Americans who got previous rounds of Covid shots cited a lack of worry about the virus as a reason they didn’t get the latest booster, according to a November survey from health policy research organization KFF. Others said they had been too busy to get their shot, the survey said.

Covid cases in the U.S. have plunged from their peak earlier in the pandemic, but appear to be creeping up. The weekly test positivity rate in the U.S. was 4.5% as of June 1, up from 4.1% the previous week and 3.4% the week before that, according to CDC data

We’ll continue to watch the new round of Covid vaccines as we get closer to the fall.  

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Annika at annikakim.constantino@nbcuni.com.

Latest in health-care technology

White House partners with Microsoft, Google on cybersecurity for rural hospitals

An American flag flies outside OSF Saint Paul Medical Center in Mendota, Illinois, April 14, 2020.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The White House on Monday announced Microsoft and Google have agreed to provide free and low-cost cybersecurity resources for rural hospitals across the U.S. as the health-care sector works to fend off growing numbers of attackers. 

Cyberattacks against the health-care system climbed 128% from 2022 to 2023, according to a release, and the number of large security breaches in the sector soared to a record last year. The attacks have shown no signs of stopping, as major health systems and companies have been plagued by breaches in recent months. 

For instance, UnitedHealth Group’s subsidiary Change Healthcare suffered a debilitating cyberattack in February that left thousands of doctors unable to fill prescriptions, check benefits or get paid for their services. The White House said the breach was “one of the most significant healthcare-related cyberattacks to date.”  

Maintaining cybersecurity infrastructure is complex and expensive, and breaches often require “staffing-intensive manual workarounds” that can be particularly hard on small rural hospitals, the White House said. As a result, the Biden administration has called on tech companies such as Microsoft and Google to offer additional support. 

Microsoft said it will provide rural emergency hospitals and critical access hospitals with up to a 75% discount on its security products that are tailored to smaller organizations, according to a release. The company said it will offer its “most advanced” security suite to some larger rural hospitals for free for a year, and participating rural hospitals can also receive free Windows 10 security updates.

Rural hospitals can access free cybersecurity assessments and training through Microsoft and its partners to help identify risks and gaps within systems, the company said.

Google said it will provide “endpoint security advice” to rural hospitals and nonprofits for free, which means the company will help organizations make devices such as their laptops and desktops more difficult to attack.

Taylor Lehmann, director of the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer at Google Cloud, said Google is also helping organizations get set up with platforms such as Google Workspace and systems such as Chrome and ChromeOS that have security features built in. The company is offering funding to help organizations make the switch, Lehmann added. 

“The belief that this problem will simply go away, or that the bad guys just have bigger targets [is] not correct,” he told CNBC in an interview. “Hope is not a strategy, especially when the marketplace for attackers is so indiscriminate.” 

Lehmann said Google is also putting together a pilot program with a handful of rural hospitals to develop a free or low-cost package of tools it can offer to similar organizations at a greater scale in the future. 

“It’s pretty encouraging to see this activity. I think it’s been a long time coming, and I think there’s still more to do here,” he said. “It’s sort of trending in the right direction, I would say, as far as getting attention to some of these really critical problems that we’re seeing.”

Read the full release from the White House here.

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Ashley at ashley.capoot@nbcuni.com.

 



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