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FDA recommends updating COVID booster shots to fight Omicron

Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani joins the Live show to discuss the FDA's vote to update its COVID-19 boosters.

Video transcript

JULIE HYMAN: The Food and Drug Administration voted in favor of updating COVID-19 boosters to fight Omicron in the fall. Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani joins us now with the details. It's so interesting here that they recommend this. I mean, the vaccine makers have been saying that they've been working on this. So it feels a little backwards but explain it to us, Anjalee.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, Julie, I'm so glad you brought that up, because that's exactly why yesterday's panel was anything but clear cut on what the decision is moving forward. You, of course, are correct. We've heard that these companies have been working on specifically bivalent boosters, and that's including the original strain plus Omicron or plus other ones that they've worked on along the way.

So we'll break that down in a second. But to recap, yesterday's vote ended with a 19 yes to no on that recommendation to include an Omicron basically part in a booster. But it remains unclear whether or not that is a bivalent or monovalent decision and whether or not that would be the Omicron BA.1 original or the sub-variant BA.4, BA.5, so that's something that has yet to be decided by the FDA.

And you can hear a little bit about the discussion of what the confusion was and what the concerns were largely speaking. There's no clinical data to support any of this just yet. And so there was a question about what would happen if the panel did not in fact recommend? And what would happen to the companies that have been, like you said, producing at risk some of these doses. Listen to what they have to say.

- There's the financial risk that the pharmaceutical companies are taking by making these vaccines. And if there's a low likelihood that the vaccines would be recommended, then they could incur a significant loss. And so I guess that's the direction I was going in. It may not be answerable.

PETER MARKS: I guess I would say that I would make our recommendations here knowing that the vaccine manufacturers will be kept whole by the United States government for at least some vaccine. I think that's probably a reasonable assumption.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So as you can hear, that is FDA'S Peter Marks saying basically that the US government would be able to fill that hole for the companies. And that's, sort of, where the focus is coming from. We also know that Novavax was present at this for the first time at a meeting discussing that booster. And though its vaccine has not yet been authorized, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not it needed to upgrade its vaccine. But there did seem to be a lot of support for the vaccine. So that was really interesting

And then we also know that some of the panelists did express concern about constantly boosting. So that might limit who gets the recommendation for a booster this fall whether it remains those who have already received additional boosters such as those that are elderly or immunocompromised, other vulnerable populations. So all told, it really remains to be seen.

The timeline for this is also important. The FDA is looking to start a booster vaccination campaign by October really, and that is around the time that some of these companies said they could start having doses if they needed to pivot to a BA.4 BA.5 strain. They currently have more data on that BA.1 Omicron. So I know it's really technical and confusing, but it all really matters when it comes down to what kind of protection we might be looking at needing by this fall.

- Anjalee, what we have here, the US is also offering monkey pox vaccines in some states. What do we know about that?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: That's right. The Biden administration made an announcement yesterday that they're going to start expanding access to the monkeypox vaccines. That's that one JYNNEOS that is imported. They currently said that they're going to be providing 296,000 doses. Of that amount, 56,000 will be available immediately. And towards the end of the year, it'll be a total of 1.6 million.

And that's increasing access and specifically, delivering and targeting areas where they see higher cases and those at higher risk involved. So it's really an expansion of what has already been happening. We also know that they recently expanded testing to commercial sites, so a lot more focus now on this new outbreak as well.