HHS buys 66 million doses of updated Moderna vaccine for ‘early fall’ campaign

The Biden administration announced that it is buying 66 million doses of updated Moderna COVID-19 vaccine targeting the omicron variant ahead of a planned booster campaign starting in “early fall.” 

The updated vaccine will specifically target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron which are currently circulating and fueling a new increase in hospitalizations.  

The Moderna purchase comes on top of an order placed last month for 105 million doses of Pfizer’s updated vaccine.  

The first deliveries of the updated vaccines from both companies will begin in “early fall,” the Department of Health and Human Services said Friday, allowing the booster shot campaign to begin then, assuming the Food and Drug Administration formally signs off on the updated shots.  

“We look forward to receiving these new variant-specific vaccines and working with state and local healthcare partners to make the vaccines available for free in communities around the country this fall,” said HHS Assistant Secretary Dawn O’Connell.  

Experts stress the current vaccines still provide important protection against severe disease and hospitalization, and that it is key that people get their first booster shot now if they have not already, and their second booster if they are over age 50.  

But protection from the vaccines decreases over time, and the BA.5 variant currently circulating has shown an increased ability to evade protection, leading to calls for the updated vaccine campaign in the fall.  

The Biden administration is using money that it had to cut from other areas of the pandemic response to make the purchase of the updated vaccines, given that Congress has not provided new funding. The administration has warned that it has had to take from other important areas, like maintaining testing capacity and research on even better vaccines that can target all variants at once.  

Between Pfizer and Moderna, there are now orders for 171 million doses of updated vaccines. While that is not enough for every American, given the uptake rates for booster shots so far, it might be enough for everyone who will want the updated shots.  

About 107 million people have received their first booster, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures.