WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States on Friday opened COVID-19 booster shots to all adults and took the extra step of urging people 50 and older to seek one, with the aim of averting a winter rise as coronavirus cases rise , even before millions of Americans travel for the holidays.
Until now, Americans have been faced with a confusing list of who was eligible for a booster that varied by age, their health, and what kind of vaccine they were given first. The Food and Drug Administration approved changes to Pfizer and Moderna boosters to make it easier.
Under the new rules, anyone 18 years or older can choose either a Pfizer or Moderna booster six months after their last dose. For anyone receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the waiting time was already only two months. And people can mix and match boosters from any company.
“We heard loud and clear that people needed something simpler – and this, I think, is simple,” said FDA Vaccine Director Dr. Peter Marks to the Associated Press.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to agree before the new policy became official late Friday, DC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky a recommendation from her agency’s scientific advisers, who – in addition to offering all adults a booster – had emphasized that people 50 and older should be encouraged to get one.
“It’s a stronger recommendation,” said CDC adviser Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “I want to make sure we provide as much protection as we can.”
The CDC also called on those who had previously qualified but had not yet signed up for a booster to stop postponing it – saying older Americans and people at risk such as obesity, diabetes or other health problems should try to get one before the holidays.
The expansion entitles thousands of millions of Americans to an extra dose of protection.
The first priority for the United States and the world is still to get more unvaccinated people their first doses. All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States continue to offer strong protection against serious illness, including hospitalization and death, without a booster.
But protection against infection can diminish over time, and the United States and many countries in Europe are also struggling with how broadly they should recommend boosters as they fight a winter wave of new cases. In the United States, COVID-19 diagnoses have risen steadily over the past three weeks, especially in states where colder weather has already driven people indoors.
And about a dozen states did not wait for federal officials to act before opening boosters to all adults.
“The direction is not good. People are going in more, and ‘ups’ next week happens to be the biggest travel week of the year, so it makes enough sense to do what we can here to try to reverse the trend,” Marks told the AP.
Vaccinations began in the United States last December, about a year after the coronavirus first appeared. More than 195 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of J&J. More than 32 million have already received a booster, a large proportion – 17 million – people aged 65 or older. Experts say it is reassuring as seniors are at particularly high risk for COVID-19 and were among the first in line for initial vaccinations
Teenage boosters are not yet under discussion, and child-sized doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are currently rolling out to children ages 5 to 11.
The Biden administration had originally planned boosters for all adults, but until now, U.S. health authorities – backed by their scientific advisers – had questioned the need for such a widespread campaign. Instead, they first approved Pfizer or Moderna boosters only for vulnerable groups such as older Americans or those at high risk for COVID-19 due to health issues, their jobs, or their living conditions.
This time, experts agreed that the overall benefits of extra protection from a third dose for any adult – six months after their last shot – outweighed the risk of rare side effects from Moderna’s or Pfizer’s vaccine, such as a type of heart infection most commonly seen in adolescents. men.
Several other countries have discouraged the use of the Moderna vaccine in young people because of this concern, citing data suggesting that the rare side effect may occur a little more with that vaccine than its competitor.
Pfizer told CDC advisers that in a booster study of 10,000 people as young as 16, there were no more serious side effects from a third vaccine dose than before. This study found that a booster restored protection against symptomatic infections to about 95%, even while the extra contagious delta variant increased.
The UK recently released real-world data showing the same leap in protection as it began offering boosters to middle-aged and older adults, and Israel has credited widespread boosters to help fight back another wave of the virus.
While the vaccines stimulate the immune memory, which protects against serious illness, protection against infection depends on levels of antiviral antibodies that decrease over time. No one yet knows how long antibody levels will remain high after a booster.
But even a temporary boost in protection against infection can help during the winter and holidays, said the CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver.
Some experts worry that all the attention on boosters could hurt efforts to reach the 47 million American adults who remain unvaccinated. There is also growing concern that rich countries are offering widespread boosters when poor countries have not been able to vaccinate more than a small portion of their population.
“In terms of the first priority to reduce infection in this country and around the world, this is still getting people to their first vaccine series,” said Dr. David Dowdy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.