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Should COVID-19 shots be administered like flu shots? A local expert weighs in

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

The proposal, which was voted on unanimously Thursday by the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, would involve creating a COVID-19 vaccine that would be administered much like an annual flu shot.

Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of the Global Health Institute at SUNY Upstate, said he wasn’t surprised by the plan.

"I thought we would get here at some point in time because I've never been under the impression that this was ever going to go away," said Thomas.

The goal of the plan is to streamline the process, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and get shots in the arms of the groups most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections. But Thomas said there are still a lot of lingering questions, like whether the virus will always be worse in the winter.

"Whether that's being driven by human behavior that changes in the winter, or whether we are still on a rollercoaster being driven by the virus and mutations that the virus makes, I think that still remains to be seen," he said.

Also, it’s unclear when or how quickly new variants may develop. Under the proposed FDA plan, a vaccine would be developed each summer to be administered later in the year.

"What if the virus has different ideas?” said Thomas. “What if the virus is going to change a lot more frequently than that? We don't know."

Still, Thomas said the panel has to start somewhere.

“I think the plan that they’re proposing, at least what I’ve read, is reasonable,” he said. “But, just as important is, you have to have systems and processes in place that can quickly see the signals that your plan is not going to work, so that you can then pivot.”

Thomas said COVID-19 is still a public health threat, especially to people who are immunocompromised or age 65 and older. He said there is very strong data to show people in high-risk groups should get the bivalent booster. For other people, he recommends speaking to your doctor to make the best decision.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.