U.S. Lays Out Plan for COVID-19 Booster Shots to Start in September

Last week, U.S. health officials announced they were advising those with weakened immune systems to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot since they were at higher risk for catching the virus.

On Wednesday, the Biden Administration announced a plan to give booster shots to everyone age 16 and older, regardless of immune system status.

Citing the rising threat from the Delta variant and concerns over data showing initial immunity falling over time, the Biden administration is callig for a third “booster” shot for adults initially fully vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine regimens. 

The administration said the booster shots should come about eight months following the initial vaccination. The booster shots will be available starting the week of Sept. 20.

While reaffirming the current two-dose regimens are effective, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the booster shots would help the country “stay ahead of the virus,” citing emerging evidence indicating that the vaccines lose some of their power over time and the Delta variant warrants the extra boost, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Having reviewed the most current data, it is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for Covid-19 boosters is now,” Murthy said.

The New York Times reported that studies released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided some evidence that booster shots would be needed. According to the Times, it isn’t clear whether the decline in protection against infection is the result of waning immunity, a drop in precautions like wearing masks, or the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant — or a combination of all three.

“We are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Murthy said at a White House news briefing on Wednesday.

The booster shots wouldn’t be offered until they’ve been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, which still hasn’t officially authorized the vaccines. That authorization, according to published reports, is expected by the end of the month.

The third dose will be of the same vaccine from the two-dose regimen, Axios is reporting. The extra dose will be offered free, similar to previous shots, health officials said. They said that the U.S. had ample supplies to meet demand, with shots to be administered at the 80,000 pharmacies and other vaccination sites operating across the U.S.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people 12 years and older, while Moderna’s is cleared for those 18 years and above.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the revised thinking on boosters followed data through the end of July and early August from several studies in the U.S. and other countries on the vaccines’ durability, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said.

So far, the vaccines are holding up well in protecting against severe disease and hospitalization, she said, but the studies indicate the shots lose power against infection and might lose effectiveness against severe disease. Some of the studies also indicate that two doses aren’t as strong against Delta, she said, according to The Journal.

Data from nursing homes on weekly Covid-19 cases counts, for instance, demonstrated vaccine effectiveness against infection decreased over time from 75% in March to 53% on Aug. 1.

“This represents a substantial decline in vaccine effectiveness against infection,” Dr. Walensky said.