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FDA reverses course, calls for vaccines for fall 2024 to target newer COVID-19 strain

FDA advisers previously recommended a shot that targeted the JN.1 variant instead of newer strains of the virus.
Covid vaccine
Posted at 12:01 PM, Jun 14, 2024

The Food and Drug Administration provided updated guidance for COVID-19 vaccine makers, calling for them to formulate a shot that better targets more recent strains of the virus. The new shot is expected to be available this fall.

The FDA said on Thursday that fall 2024 COVID-19 vaccines should target the KP.2 variant of the virus, which is a descendant of the JN.1 variant that widely circulated throughout the U.S. during the winter. FDA advisers previously recommended a shot that simply targeted the JN.1 variant instead of newer strains of the virus.

As of June 8, the KP.2 variant made up an estimated 22.5% of COVID-19 infections, while the JN.1 strain comprised 3.1%. KP.3, another descendant of the JN.1 variant, made up about 25% of cases. Both KP.2 and KP.3 have edged out older variants of the virus in recent months.

"This change is intended to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines (2024-2025 Formula) more closely match circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains." the FDA said. "FDA has communicated this change to the manufacturers of the licensed and authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The agency does not anticipate that a change to KP.2 will delay the availability of the vaccines for the United States."

A health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine.

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KP.2 and KP.3 are known as FLiRT variants, because of their specific positions in the spike protein.

Andy Pekosz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in molecular microbiology and immunology, said in a Q&A in May 2024 that these variants aren't more or less severe than previous variants, but more people have antibodies through vaccines and prior infection to better fight off an infection.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 22% of adults in the U.S. got a COVID-19 shot for the 2023-24 season.

Everyone age 5 years and older should get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against serious illness, the CDC recommends.

In recent years, updated COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available in early autumn.

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