American public health officials on Wednesday recommended booster shots for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to drive up infection rates nationwide. The shots will be available beginning in September and are recommended eight months after people have gotten their last vaccine doses.
In a joint statement, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and other public health officials said recent evidence showed that, as with other vaccines, protection granted by the available COVID-19 vaccines wanes over time. At a news conference, Murthy said that waning protection in combination with the “strength of the widespread delta variant” prompted officials to recommend booster shots.
“In association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” the statement released Wednesday read.
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
Officials said they plan to begin offering booster shots in the fall to people who were fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, dependent on FDA and CDC evaluations of the safety and efficacy of booster shots. Nearly 150 million people nationwide have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with either of the vaccines, according to data from the CDC.
“We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose,” officials said. “At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster.”
Authorities said booster shots will also likely be needed for the 13.7 million people who have been fully vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, there was not enough data available as of Wednesday for officials to make a specific recommendation.
“Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks,” according to the statement released Wednesday. “With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots as well.”
Health officials stressed at a White House COVID-19 Response Team news conference Wednesday that fully vaccinated people remain well protected against severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
“We are not recommending that you go out and get a booster today,” Murthy said. “Instead, starting the week of Sept. 20, fully vaccinated adults could begin getting their booster shots eight months after their second shot of an mRNA vaccine.”
The announcement comes two days after officials with Pfizer and BioNTech submitted initial data to the Food and Drug Administration about the safety and efficacy of a booster dose of their vaccine, and five days after the CDC recommended an additional dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for moderately or severely immunocompromised people.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, President Joe Biden highlighted that booster shots will be available to Americans for free.
“It will make you safer and for longer,” he said. “And it will help us end the pandemic faster.”
He rejected criticism from world leaders such as Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, who last month said vaccine manufacturers should focus on providing vaccines to countries which have struggled to gain access to first doses for their residents, according to Stat News.
“We can take care of America and help the world at the same time,” he said. “In June and July, America administered 50 million shots here in the United States, and we donated 100 million shots to other countries. That means that America has donated more vaccine to other countries than every other country in the world combined.”
He added that officials expect that about 100,000 booster shots will be administered to eligible people in the fall and winter, during which time officials expect to donate 200 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses, with an ultimate goal of donating more than 600 million doses.
As of Tuesday, the last date for which data was available, nearly 51% of all Americans, or 168.8 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Research has shown that fully vaccinated people can spread the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, which accounts for more than 80% of all COVID-19 cases reported nationwide, however, officials have noted that vaccination protects well against severe and life-threatening symptoms of the viral infection.
Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 37 million infections and reported more than 623,000 deaths across the U.S., according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 208.7 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 4.3 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
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