WASHINGTON – Federal health officials on Friday decided to expand access to COVID-19 booster shots to all U.S. adults, in a bid to boost protection against infections as the number of cases rises again in the USA.
Food and Drug Administration officials on Friday morning authorized booster shots for anyone over 18 who received their second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago.
By late afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee had confirmed the recommendation, leaving only the CDC chief’s approval.
The policy change streamlines what used to be a nuanced and confusing set of criteria.
Anyone over the age of 65 had been advised to receive an additional dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, as well as anyone over the age of 18 who has an underlying health condition.
People under 65 considered to be at higher risk because of their work environment were also allowed to request a third injection. (Anyone who has been injected with a dose of Johnson & Johnson can already receive an additional dose at least two months later under federal rules.)
But a growing number of states, including Maine, Colorado and New Mexico, have moved forward to better protect their residents and to make it easier to communicate with those who exactly need another vaccine.
At Friday’s CDC advisory committee meeting, Dr Nirav Shah, president of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, said in a conference call Thursday, his counterparts across the country expressed their strong support for the “widening, clarification and simplification” of the guidelines booster.
“No state has expressed opposition to this move,” said Shah, who is also director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The current guidelines, while well-intentioned and thoughtful, create a barrier to the use of boosters. In search of precision, they create confusion.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey also revealed confusion over who is eligible for a booster, with 4 in 10 fully vaccinated people responding that they were unsure if they were eligible.
So far, 31 million Americans have received a booster dose, including 17 million aged 65 and older, according to CDC data.
Determining who exactly needs these booster shots has been controversial.
Pfizer initially sought to offer booster doses to all American adults, and the Biden administration proclaimed in mid-August that it would launch a nationwide recall campaign by September 20.
But vaccine experts advising the FDA and CDC have recommended more stringent eligibility requirements, expressing skepticism that the available data shows each adult should be given another dose.
The CDC’s vaccine panel initially declined to recommend including employees at higher risk of exposure to the virus in their workplaces, but the top CDC official added them back into the agency’s official guidelines.