Health

US Distributes COVID Boosters To All Adults, Final Hurdle Ahead

On Friday, U.S. regulators opened COVID-19 booster shots for all adults, expanding the government’s campaign to strengthen protection and outpace the rise in coronavirus cases that could worsen over the holidays.

Pfizer and Moderna announced the FDA’s decision after at least 10 states have already begun offering boosters for all adults. The latter step simplifies what has so far been a convoluted list of eligible vaccinations, allowing anyone 18 years of age or older to choose to revaccinate any company six months after their last dose – regardless of which vaccine they got first.

But there’s one more step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must agree to extend the Pfizer and Moderna boosters even to healthy young adults. His scientific advisers were scheduled to hold the debate on Friday.

If the CDC agrees, tens of millions more Americans can receive three doses of protection before the new year. Anyone who has received a single Johnson & Johnson vaccine can already receive a booster shot.

All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States continue to provide robust protection against serious illness, including hospitalization and death, but protection against infection may weaken over time. Earlier, the government approved Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine boosters, as well as a similar vaccine, Moderna, only for vulnerable groups, including older Americans and people with chronic health problems.

The move towards expansion is due to the fact that the number of new cases of COVID-19 has been steadily increasing over the past two weeks, especially in states where colder weather forces people to move around their homes.

Inspired by these troubling trends, some states did not wait for federal action. Utah and Massachusetts were the latest states to announce last week that they are opening boosters to all adults.

The original goal of the Biden administration was to stimulate everyone. But in September, a panel of FDA advisers voted overwhelmingly against the idea, based on the consistent effectiveness of vaccines in most age groups. Instead, they approved an additional dose of Pfizer only for the most vulnerable.

Since then, administration officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have continued to push for more booster use, noting that even milder infections in young people can cause “long-term COVID” and other complications.

“I don’t know of any other vaccine where we only worry about keeping people out of the hospital,” Fauci said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Last week, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech filed new data to prove broader boosters can help fight infections at a critical time.

“In the current situation, we have absolutely no chance of controlling the pandemic without providing all the accelerators,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told reporters during a visit to Washington last week.

The companies studied 10,000 adults of all ages and found that the booster restored protection against symptomatic infections by up to about 95%, even when the extra-infectious delta variant escalated. It is too early to say whether this high level of protection will last longer after the third shot than after the second, which Sakhin said the companies will be closely monitoring.

Corroborating this evidence, the UK released real-world data this week showing the same jump in protection after it began offering boosters for middle-aged and older people. Israel believes widespread launch vehicles have helped suppress another wave of the virus in that country.

More than 195 million Americans are fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 30 million people have already received the booster.

Prior to expansion, people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine were eligible for a third dose if they are elderly or at high risk for COVID-19 due to health, work, or living conditions. Because J&J’s single shot hasn’t been shown to be as effective as its two-dose competitors, any J&J recipient can get a booster shot in at least two months.

But people who do not meet the criteria often receive additional vaccinations because many vaccination sites do not test for qualifications.

The FDA previously ruled that people receiving the booster vaccine can receive a different brand of vaccine than the one they originally received.

Some experts fear that the focus on boosters could hurt efforts to reach the 60 million Americans who qualify for the vaccine but have not received the vaccine. There is also growing concern that rich countries are offering widespread booster vaccinations when poor countries have been unable to vaccinate more than a small fraction of their populations.

“In terms of priority # 1 to reduce transmission in this country and around the world, it continues to give people their first batch of vaccines,” said Dr. David Dowdy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


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