Top U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials wrote last week that Americans should begin treating COVID-19 like the flu, as it will be around for the foreseeable future. Also, like influenza, yearly vaccines targeting the most dangerous strains of the virus would be made available.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, Principal Deputy Commissioner Janet Woodcock, and the agency’s top vaccine official, Dr. Peter Marks, wrote the remarks in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Widespread vaccine- and infection-induced immunity, combined with the availability of effective therapeutics, could blunt the effects of future outbreaks,” the officials wrote. “Nonetheless, it is time to accept that the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is the new normal.”
The virus “will likely circulate globally for the foreseeable future, taking its place alongside other common respiratory viruses such as influenza. And it likely will require similar annual consideration for vaccine composition updates in consultation with the [FDA],” they added.
The comments are a departure from the early days of the pandemic when some officials and politicians, including then-President Donald Trump, initially attempted to equate COVID to the flu. In October 2020, White House COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci said that Trump’s comparisons to the flu were false, telling NBC at the time, “it is not correct to say it’s the same as flu.”
About a year later, Fauci reversed course and told CBS News that Americans would “likely” have to deal with COVID-19 similarly to influenza.
“That’s entirely conceivable and likely; as a matter of fact, we are not going to be in a situation of this degree of intensity indefinitely,” he said when asked about the Omicron variant.
Nearly one million Americans have died from the COVID pandemic, but the availability of vaccines has coincided with the decline in the death rate of COVID-19, which has come closer to the seasonal influenza level.
The most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that while cases have trended slightly upward in the U.S., they are substantially lower than in mid-January. At that time, the seven-day average of new cases was around 800,000 per day. As of May 9, the seven-day average was about 75,000 per day.
The article penned by the three FDA officials stated that by the summer of 2022, the agency will have to decide “who should be eligible for vaccination with additional boosters and regarding vaccine composition.”
“Administering additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to appropriate individuals this fall around the time of the usual influenza vaccine campaign has the potential to protect susceptible individuals against hospitalization and death, and therefore will be a topic for FDA consideration,” they added.