WASHINGTON (The Hill): More than 50 million Americans are now eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine booster shot from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Thursday endorsed recommendations from the agency’s outside advisory panel.
There are now booster recommendations for all three available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.
More than 39 million Moderna recipients and nearly 13 million J&J recipients are eligible for a booster dose as early as Friday. Combined with Pfizer recipients, there are now nearly 100 million Americans who are over the age of 65, or otherwise at risk of severe disease, who are eligible for a booster shot.
“These recommendations are another example of our fundamental commitment to protect as many people as possible from COVID-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
“The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe – as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given. And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating delta variant,” Walensky said.
The green light will also allow Americans to choose the brand of booster they receive. Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mixed dosing for booster shots.
Experts say this flexibility will help providers and states in administering the shots, and smooth over confusing messages over boosters.
Walensky’s actions follow unanimous endorsement by the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices earlier on Thursday, as well as clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday.
Concerns about the vaccines’ waning immunity over time have sparked the push for additional doses to be administered to those most at risk of serious cases of COVID-19 to offer them more protection against the deadly virus. Experts still consider the vaccines to be highly effective, especially against hospitalization and deaths.
The path to booster authorization has not been without controversy.
In August, President Biden and top health officials, including acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, Walensky and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, publicly announced a booster shot program for all three vaccines would begin the week of Sept. 20, well before the FDA and CDC examined the evidence.
The administration initially wanted people to receive boosters beginning eight months after their second shot to reduce transmission amid the spread of the delta variant.
While officials were careful to say the booster program was contingent on the FDA and CDC giving the green light, the move was criticized by scientists inside and outside the government. They argued there wasn’t enough evidence that showed protection against severe illness and hospitalization dropped to levels that warranted a booster.
The World Health Organization has also pleaded with wealthy countries to hold off on distributing boosters until poor countries have greater access to initial doses.
Still, opening up eligibility largely fulfills the administration’s promise from August that booster shots would be widely available to every person who wants one.
The specific criteria are more limiting than giving boosters to every American, but are permissive enough that anyone who judges themselves at risk can receive a shot.