U.S. health officials recently announced that vaccinated Americans should receive booster shots of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines eight months after receiving their second shot. Starting in September, a third shot will be offered to the fully vaccinated to increase the protection against COVID-19. Data is still pending about the one-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine; however, health officials have said that they also anticipate booster shots for people who have received the J&J.
“We conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability,” read a joint statement by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, COVID Health Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smit, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others.
“We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose,” the statement continued. “At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster.
” We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time, given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them.”
The booster shots are currently pending authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Up until recently, health officials had maintained that there was no need for the fully vaccinated to receive a booster shot in the near future, and only immunocompromised Americans—around 3% of the population —should receive a booster.
In July, U.S. medical experts pushed back against Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s assertion that fully vaccinated Americans would likely need a Pfizer booster shot soon. Bourla cited a company-funded study showing the efficacy rate of the Pfizer vaccine drops 6% every two months. The study showed the vaccine’s effectiveness drops to 84% four to six months after receiving a second dose, compared to 96.2% one to two weeks after the second shot.
The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint statement at the time that countered Pfizer’s findings, stating, “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. FDA, CDC, and NIH are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary.”
But the most recent data caused health officials to reassess their guidance. “The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” read the joint statement from health officials.
Wednesday’s announcement comes at a perilous time in the more than a yearlong battle against COVID-19. The Delta variant of the virus has caused an alarming spike across the nation, especially in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states with low vaccination rates.
But the rise in cases of COVID-19 has occurred in states with higher vaccination rates, as well. In Minnesota, most of the state is considered to have a high rate of transmission for the virus, even though 70% of Minnesotans ages 16 and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
It was announced this week that masks are recommended but will not be mandated at the upcoming State Fair, sparking fears that this year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together could become a COVID-19 super-spreader event.
The announcement has also raised concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global organizations regarding vaccine inequality. Half of the country has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to federal health data, while only 24% of the world’s population is fully inoculated.
“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” said WHO Emergencies Chief Dr. Michael Ryan to reporters.
However, U.S. health officials have maintained that there are enough vaccines available to share with the other nations, while also offering booster shots for fully vaccinated Americans.
“Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19 with safe, effective, and long-lasting vaccines especially in the context of a constantly changing virus and epidemiologic landscape,” read the statement from health officials. “We will continue to follow the science on a daily basis, and we are prepared to modify this plan should new data emerge that requires it.”
For info on state vaccination locations, go to VaccineConnector.mn.gov.