Moving into another year of emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic, with vaccines continuing to be a core tool in this process, the UK and US are making moves to prepare for future seasons of COVID-19 infections. In a meeting on 26th January 2023, the US Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will vote on a proposed change to primary and booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in the UK, recent advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) suggests that booster doses will be offered to “higher risk” groups in the Autumn of 2023, with preparations also recommended for an “emergency surge”.  

The US proposals 

Briefing documents issued ahead of the meeting on 26th January indicated that it would consider questions around “simplifying the composition and immunisation schedules of the authorised and approved COVID-19 vaccines”. Further consideration will be given to “the process for determining the need for recommending a periodic update to COVID-19 vaccines, and the timing for implementation of such an update”.  

The “preference” from previous meetings has been for a “bivalent vaccine booster that incorporated a component based on the original strain and an Omicron variant component”. However, the use of bivalent vaccines has “been associated with significant implementation complexities”. Thus, the FDA suggests that it is time to consider a “move to a single vaccine composition for primary and booster vaccinations”.  

“The simplification of vaccine composition should reduce complexity, decrease vaccine administration errors… and potentially increase vaccine compliance by allowing clearer communication.”  

Preparations in the UK 

In a statement from the JCVI in January 2023 the advice for planning purposes ahead of 2023 is: 

  • “In autumn 2023, persons at higher risk of severe COVID-19 could be offered a booster vaccine dose in preparation for winter 2023 to 2024” 
  • “For a smaller group of persons (such as persons of older age and those who are immunosuppressed) an extra booster vaccine dose may be offered in spring 2023” 
  • “Emergency surge vaccine responses may be required should a novel variant of concern emerge with clinically significant biological differences compared to the Omicron variant” 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 vaccination on the JCVI, emphasised the role of the vaccination programme in reducing “severe disease” whilst “helping to protect the NHS”.  

“That is why we have advised planning for further booster vaccines for persons at higher risk of serious illness through an autumn booster programme later this year.”  

What preparations is your country making for future seasons of COVID-19, and what more would you like to see? To engage in further discussion on the future of COVID-19 vaccines at the World Vaccine Congress get your tickets today.