The U.S. will officially allow people to get a booster shot against covid-19 starting next month, citing concerns about the resurgent pandemic and fears of waning immunity. On Wednesday, top public health experts confirmed plans by the government to sanction and recommend the use of a third dose eight months later for those who have been fully vaccinated with either mRNA vaccine. The shots will begin being offered starting September 20 to the first groups of vaccinated people, and it’s likely that booster shots will soon be recommended for those who have gotten the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration would imminently announce a booster dose plan, following past reports that such a plan has been in the making for weeks. This morning, the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services confirmed that reporting and released a joint statement from various public health officials, including Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In their statement, the group emphasised that covid-19 vaccines have provided highly effective protection against severe illness and death caused by the coronavirus the entire time since their arrival late last year, even as the more contagious and possibly more virulent Delta variant has emerged and become widespread. But they cite data from the U.S. and other countries suggesting that these vaccines have lost some of their potency over time and that they’re not as good at preventing infections from Delta as they were against past strains. They argue it’s possible that some of the vaccine-provided protection against severe illness and death may start to wane soon, necessitating the need for booster doses this early.
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalisation, 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 maximise vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability,” they state.
The current plan is for these booster shots to start going out by the week of September 20. These initial shots will be recommended for the first batch of vaccinated people, which primarily include front-line health care workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities. Afterward, they’ll be recommended for anyone eight months after their last shot. Notably, the recommendation doesn’t currently apply to those who received the single-dose J&J shot, which was authorised for use in late February this year. However, the officials say that booster shots will likely be needed for these individuals too and that health agencies are expecting more data on the vaccine in the weeks to come that will inform their booster dose plans there.
There isn’t unanimous agreement on the current need for booster doses among public health experts and scientists, it should be noted. Some have argued that these shots may only provide a marginal benefit right now, particularly since protection against the most severe outcomes appears to remain high. Other groups, including the World Health Organisation, have begged countries to first support efforts to boost global vaccination rates, which are piddling in low-income countries, before turning to boost residents at home.
Either way, the decision to authorise these booster doses in the U.S. will have to first be validated by the CDC and Food and Drug Administration, which will include discussions by outside experts.