WHO Recommends COVID-19 Boosters to Target XBB Variants

Stay ahead of evolving COVID-19 variants with updated booster shots targeting XBB strains. Learn about the WHO's recommendations and vaccine manufacturers' efforts.

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COVID-19 Boosters to Target XBB Variants

The World Health Organization (WHO) advisory group has put forth a recommendation to update this year’s COVID-19 booster shots, targeting the currently dominant XBB variants. According to the group, new formulations should focus on generating antibody responses against XBB.1.5 or XBB.1.16 variants, with consideration given to other formulations that achieve neutralizing antibody responses against XBB lineages.

The advisory group’s suggestion stems from data indicating that the original COVID-19 strain is no longer prevalent among humans, and vaccines targeting that strain produce minimal levels of neutralizing antibodies against the existing variants. Therefore, they propose excluding the original strain in future vaccine formulations.

Major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna Inc, and Novavax Inc, have already begun developing versions of their vaccines that target XBB.1.5 and other circulating strains. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a meeting in June to discuss the strain compositions for COVID-19 shots in the upcoming year, expecting vaccine manufacturers to update their shots accordingly.

In the previous year, bivalent booster shots were introduced, aiming to combat both the Omicron variant and the original virus. The WHO advisory group recommends that currently approved vaccines continue to be utilized in accordance with the agency’s recommendations.

Notably, in late March, the WHO revised its COVID vaccination guidelines, suggesting that healthy children and adolescents may not necessarily require a shot, while older individuals and high-risk groups should receive a booster shot within six to twelve months after their last vaccine dose.

These latest recommendations arrive shortly after the WHO lifted the global emergency status for COVID-19, reflecting ongoing efforts to address the evolving situation and adapt strategies accordingly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to address the updated strain compositions for COVID-19 shots. A meeting of outside experts is scheduled for June, where the selection of strains and subsequent vaccine updates will be discussed. Vaccine manufacturers will be expected to align their shots with the selected strains to ensure the highest level of efficacy and protection.

Last year, bivalent booster shots were introduced, targeting both the Omicron variant and the original COVID-19 strain. These booster shots played a crucial role in enhancing immunity and mitigating the impact of the emerging variant. However, as the virus continues to evolve, adapting the booster shots to address the currently dominant XBB variants is a strategic move to maintain the highest level of effectiveness.

The WHO advisory group emphasizes the importance of adhering to their recommendations regarding the use of currently approved vaccines. While updates are being made to target the evolving strains, the existing vaccines remain valuable tools in combating the spread of COVID-19. Adhering to recommended vaccination protocols will help ensure the ongoing protection of individuals and communities.

These latest recommendations come in the wake of the WHO’s decision to lift the global emergency status for COVID-19. This transition indicates a shift in focus towards sustained management of the pandemic, with a continued emphasis on surveillance, research, and targeted interventions. By updating booster shots to target the prevailing variants, health authorities aim to maintain control over the virus and minimize its impact on public health.

As the global fight against COVID-19 continues, international organizations, vaccine manufacturers, and health authorities remain vigilant in monitoring the virus’s evolution. By staying proactive and responsive, they can adapt vaccination strategies to tackle emerging variants effectively and safeguard global health.