WASHINGTON, Thousands more Americans can have a COVID-19 booster, and they can choose a different vaccine company for their next shot, federal officials announced Thursday.
Some people who have received Pfizer vaccines months ago are eligible for a booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says that certain Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients are also eligible. The agency has made a larger change by allowing flexibility in mixing and matching the extra dose, regardless of the type of vaccine received.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved an increase in nation's booster campaigns. A CDC advisory panel also approved it Thursday. The final decision on who gets the additional doses was made by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC.
She stated that the past 20 months had taught her many lessons, but most importantly to be humble. "We are always learning about this virus and growing the evidence base. We also accumulate more data."
There are still restrictions about who is eligible and when to get a booster. People should get a booster six months after their last Moderna or Pfizer vaccination. Adults of all ages are allowed to get boosters, but they are not recommended. This includes teachers, health care workers, and those in prisons or homeless shelters.
Moderna's booster will be half the dose as the original two shots.
For those who have received the J&J single-shot vaccine, it is recommended that they receive a COVID-19 booster at least two months following their vaccination. Because the J&J vaccine isn't as effective as two-dose Moderna and Pfizer options, it's not recommended for everyone.
Although the CDC panel did not recommend that anyone switch brands, they left the possibility open. They only recommended that someone get a booster. Some of the advisors suggested that J&J recipients should receive a booster from a competitor, citing preliminary data from a government study that indicated a greater boost in virus-fighting antibody levels from this combination.
It was "priceless" for someone to be able choose a different type of booster in the event that they might be at high risk for rare side effects from a vaccine.
Two-thirds of Americans who are eligible for COVID-19 shots have been fully vaccinated. The government insists that the first shots should be given to those who are not yet vaccinated. Health authorities believe boosters will increase immunity to milder coronavirus infection, but all vaccines offer strong protection against hospitalizations, and even death, even though the extra-contagious delta virus has decimated the country.
The CDC advisers wondered if boosters were being given to people who weren't actually in need, particularly young adults who are otherwise fit and healthy, and whose only qualification was their work.
Dr. Sarah Long from Drexel University expressed concern about the possibility of these people suffering rare, but severe side effects from an additional dose if they were already adequately protected.
Dr. Beth Bell, University of Washington, said that she was concerned about vaccines being recommended for people who don't need them.
She stressed, however, that vaccines work and that it makes sense to move forward with the recommendations for clarity and flexibility in boosters.
Despite some members' concerns, the panel votes were unanimous.
Nearly 190 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. J&J recipients make up only 15 million.