A healthcare worker gives a picture of the Moderna COVID-19 to a woman at a pop-up vaccination site operated by SOMOS Community Care during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York on January 29, 2021 Vaccine.

Facebook Facebook Logo Log in to Facebook to connect with Mike Segar Reuters

Covid-19 booster shots are free to the public if they are needed to combat the ongoing pandemic, David Kessler, chief science officer of the Covid-19 response team at the White House, told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday.

“We have the means to buy the next round and make sure there are boosters that are just as free as the last round,” Kessler said at a Senate hearing. “After 2022, I will look to your guidance on when to return to a commercial market, but I think we will continue to do as we did in this coming round,” he said.

He said it is still unclear whether the booster vaccinations will be necessary to protect against future variants of the coronavirus. The US is making preparations in case it is needed, he said. Antibodies that protect against the virus decrease over time, and new variants that reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines “all increase the likelihood that booster doses might be needed,” he said.

Kessler said the US needs to accelerate its work to develop an oral antiviral drug that can be easily distributed to fight the virus. The US has issued emergency approval for some drugs that use antibodies to fight Covid-19. However, they must be administered by and intravenously and have not been used extensively by healthcare providers.

“People who are immunocompromised, do not develop an immune response for various reasons, or do not get vaccinated are still at risk and we need options for them,” said Kessler. “Antibody treatments are one approach, but a simple oral antiviral agent can add to our tools to bring this epidemic under control.”

If booster shots are deemed necessary by federal health officials, seniors and people with underlying medical conditions are likely to have access to them first, as was the case with the first round of vaccination.

Moderna is already running tests with a potential booster shot to be given after a patient has been fully vaccinated with both of the previous vaccine doses. The Moderna Booster Shot is already showing promising results against variants B.1.351 and P.1, which were first discovered in South Africa and Brazil.