Americans will be eligible to receive booster shot starting Sept. 20
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Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 18 with new information from the Biden administration.
The Biden administration is saying it will begin offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all Americans on Sept. 20 and is advising people age 18 and older who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get the booster shot eight months after their second dose, the Washington Post first reported on Aug. 18.
“We have developed a plan to begin offering these booster shots this fall subject to [the Food and Drug Administration] conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and [the] CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence,” officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Health said in a joint statement on Aug. 18.
“We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20 and starting eight months after an individual’s second dose. 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.”
Pfizer-BioNTech on Aug. 16 said it had submitted data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support booster shots of its COVID-19 vaccine.
“Given the high levels of immune responses observed, a booster dose given within six to 12 months after the primary vaccination schedule may help maintain a high level of protection against COVID-19,” the company wrote in a statement.
Johnson & Johnson is currently holding clinical trials for booster shots for its single-dose vaccine.
In a press briefing on Aug. 18, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the “most vulnerable populations will be eligible” for a booster vaccine first, including healthcare providers and residents of long-term care facilities. “We are not recommending you go out and get a booster today,” Murthy noted, confirming previous remarks by administration officials anticipating a booster shot for the general population down the line.
“It’s … true … that we believe, sooner or later, you will need a booster for durability of protection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a press briefing on Aug. 12. “We are evaluating this on a day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month basis … and right at this moment — apart from the immunocompromised — we do not believe that others — elderly or nonelderly — who are not immunocompromised, need a vaccine right at this moment.”
Excluding the immunocompromised, the administration is recommending people receive the booster shot eight months after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine. Therefore, travelers may consider refraining from making travel plans during the one- or two-month period around which you anticipate receiving the booster shot.
Today’s news comes days after the FDA on Aug. 12 announced it would authorize a COVID-19 booster for immunocompromised individuals. The agency amended the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow for booster shots for certain people with weakened immune systems.
Just over 50% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But the highly transmissible delta variant has some people concerned about whether a booster shot may be needed in the future. The variant is now the most dominant strain in the U.S. and is particularly problematic in unvaccinated pockets in the United States.
Here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19 boosters right now.
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On Wednesday, Aug. 18, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration is saying it will begin offering on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all Americans who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines eight months prior, beginning Sept. 20.
“This initial data indicate that we may preserve and even exceed the high levels of protection against the wild-type virus and relevant variants using a third dose of our vaccine,” BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement. “A booster vaccine could help reduce infection and disease rates in people who have previously been vaccinated and better control the spread of virus variants during the coming season.”
Pfizer-BioNTech said data also will be submitted to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) ” in the coming weeks.”
FDA, CDC approve COVID-19 booster for immunocompromised people
The FDA authorized COVID-19 booster shots for people with weakened immune systems on Aug. 12, saying the move would “boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from COVID-19.”
“After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines,” acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
The FDA classifies these individuals as people who have undergone solid organ transplants or those who are diagnosed with conditions “that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromised.”
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices announced that it approved booster shots for people with weakened immune systems on Aug. 13.
“CDC now recommends that people whose immune systems are compromised moderately to severely should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial two doses,” the agency said.
Who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot?
Currently, booster shots are only available to people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer or transplant patients taking certain immunosuppressive drugs. The FDA and CDC have not yet authorized a booster shot for the rest of the population, although authorization seems forthcoming given the Biden administration’s booster rollout plan.
What have health experts said about COVID-19 booster shots?
The top health agencies in the U.S. released a statement in July saying that people didn’t need a booster shot. The makers of two vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, submitted applications for full approval in May and June, respectively.
But with the delta variant’s spread, health experts appear to be taking a more urgent approach to getting booster shots into certain peoples’ arms.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in early August that immunocompromised people might not have sufficient protection with the two-dose vaccines.
“It is extremely important for us to move to get those individuals their boosters, and we are now working on that,” Fauci said.
What if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Experts have differing opinions on whether people, particularly those who took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should get a booster.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 66% efficacy rate, compared to 95% for Pfizer and 94% for Moderna. Right now, the FDA and CDC’s authorization only applies to the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
In a press briefing on Aug. 18, Murthy said he “anticipates a booster shot will likely be needed for the J&J vaccine” and that more data on such should be available in the coming weeks.
Can I get a booster shot if I want one?
Even if COVID-19 booster shots were widely recommended across the globe, there are people worldwide still waiting for their first and second doses.
While many developed countries vaccinate their citizens en masse, there are inequalities in which countries have gotten vaccines. In particular, much of the African continent and parts of the Middle East lag behind the rest of the world in vaccine rollouts.
What about children?
With the delta variant spreading, and one vaccine maker urging booster shots, families with children under 12 might be wondering what a mixed-vaccine status might mean for their travel plans.
If you’re traveling domestically with children, there are no COVID-19 testing requirements. But even if you haven’t left home since the onset of the pandemic, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that traveling abroad with kids is a bit different than it used to be.
Vaccinated adults traveling with unvaccinated kids may, in some instances, have different travel requirements as a result of the pandemic. However, many countries with strict vaccination requirements accept proof of a negative COVID-19 test for children ineligible to be vaccinated.
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine given emergency use authorization by the FDA for children as young as 12. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only available to people 18 and older at this time.
Right now, the CDC recommends people 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.
Featured photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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