WH COVID-19 response team says updated vaccine should provide protection for a year

In response to a question from Yahoo News Senior White House Correspondent Alexander Nazaryan about how vaccines will keep up with potentially changing COVID-19 variants, White House COVID-19 response team members Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the updated vaccine to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants should provide protection for most Americans for a year.

Video transcript

ALEXANDER NAZARYAN: Thanks, everyone. Just a question, broadly about how we avoid playing catch up to new variants or subvariants of the vaccine, because unlike the flu, we're probably not going to have the kind of indication we get from the Southern hemisphere of the variants-- or at least not a very-- or at least not an indication with any kind of useful lag to develop those vaccines. So are we just hoping that the new subvariants continue to have spike protein mutations that allow this new bivalent vaccine to work against them? Or is there going to be some-- I mean, can we expect some curve balls just because of what this virus tends to do?

DR ASHISH JHA: That's a great question. Let me start, but I would love Tony's thoughts on this as well. So we-- you know, the line that we use is, hope is not a strategy. So we're not planning or hoping on any one specific outcome-- obviously, we all hope that the viral evolution slows down. But here's the way I've been thinking about this-- I think we've been thinking about it inside the administration. First of all, right now we have a vaccine that exactly matches the variant that's out there. We may see more evolution of this virus to the extent that evolution comes off of BA.5, that this updated vaccine will continue to provide a very high degree of protection.

One of the things that we've been thinking about-- and you've heard me talk about it, we held a summit here at the White House on this-- is that we need to get to a point where we have variant proofed vaccines, we have mucosal vaccines-- we need to play the long game against this virus. That is going to require additional resources from Congress. So part of what's in the request of Congress is funding for that next generation of vaccines. That's so critical if we're going to be able to ultimately get this virus behind us. So I remain confident that the bivalent vaccine we have right now will provide a high degree of protection with some durability, but in the long run, we're going to need a different game, in terms of much more durable vaccines. Tony?

DR ANTHONY FAUCI: Now just to underscore what Dr. Jha said about the long game-- we totally agree, we want to get a pan-coronavirus type of a vaccine with either a different platform or a better immunogen to do that. Hopefully even with mucosally-administrated. But that's the long game. I believe, Alex, you're asking the short game question, like in the next year or so.

Now, one of the defining aspects of what we've all said is, barring the out-of-left-field curve ball-- I mean, there's nothing we can do about that except know that we have vaccine platforms that will allow us to quickly move to address that. But let's say we don't get a real big difference over the next year. You would expect that BA.5-- if it stays with us, in the sense of being the dominant one for a considerable period of time, or if there is a minor drift from it-- the BA.5 updated vaccine that we're talking about, very likely would hold a substantial degree of protection against a minor sub lineage change from BA.5. So that's what we're talking about.

If we can do that at the end of each year for most of the population-- and again, to underscore what we said, for those who have underlying conditions, immunocompromised, we may need to do it more. But for the bulk of the population, we can look at it on a yearly basis and see, are we still close to what we're doing now, are we matched pretty closely? If so, good. If not, then you'd want to make the modification. Thanks.