New COVID-19 vaccine for fall should target JN.1 lineage, not variant, FDA panel

A group of health experts met this week to determine which COVID-19 vaccine the U.S. should use in the upcoming fall season.

The federal advisory committee concluded on Wednesday that the new vaccine should target the JN.1 lineage, which has been the dominant strain of the virus according to recommendations.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, comprised of prominent U.S. health experts, held a virtual meeting to propose a new vaccine that can enhance protection against COVID-19, as the effectiveness of current vaccines against the XBB.1.5 strain is diminished and offers less defense against the JN.1 strain and its various sub-variants, which have been driving cases for several months, officials and vaccine manufacturers explained during the extensive meeting.
The 16-member panel, which has met four times since 2022, unanimously approved a vaccine targeting the JN.1 lineage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will use the panel’s recommendations to develop vaccines for the upcoming year. This decision follows the World Health Organization’s recent assessment that vaccines should use a “monovalent JN.1 lineage.”

During their discussions, the panel considered various sub-variants of JN.1. Federal tracking estimates show that sub-variants KP.2 and KP.3, which closely resemble JN.1, have been responsible for new cases. Officials emphasized that COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, and the panel’s aim was to address the virus’s changes before an expected increase in cases later this year.

Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax assured the panel that they were prepared to provide JN.1-targeted vaccines by August, pending FDA approval.
In late 2023, the JN.1 lineage surpassed the XBB lineage that was responsible for last year’s vaccines. According to officials, JN.1 infections were not more severe than XBB cases. This is in contrast to the severity observed when cases transitioned from the delta to omicron variants, which led to a surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths worldwide in 2021.

Officials stated that last year’s vaccine provided increased protection against COVID-19 for those who received it. However, in terms of protection against specific lineages, last year’s vaccine for XBB.1.5 offered some protection against the JN.1 lineage, but it may not have been as effective compared to other sub-variants of the XBB lineage.

In anticipation of an expected increase in COVID-19 cases during the winter, updated vaccines are set to be released in the fall. This decision coincides with a decline in the vaccination rate against COVID-19 in the United States, as well as globally.
The CDC has advised that individuals aged 65 and above, as well as those with compromised immune systems, should receive a booster of the updated COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. However, during the panel discussion on Wednesday, no specific mention was made regarding the need for boosters among older individuals. These recommendations align with the CDC’s free vaccine program, which is expected to conclude in August, coinciding with the anticipated availability of the new vaccine shots as indicated by manufacturers. This article was initially published on USA TODAY with the title “COVID-19 vaccine should target JN.1 lineage, FDA panel says.”

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