Millions more Americans will be able to get their COVID-19 booster shots and choose a vaccine from a different company for their next dose, federal health officials reported.
Certain people who received the Pfizer vaccine several months ago were already eligible to receive a booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that some of those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are also eligible.
And, in an even bigger change, CDC now allowed flexibility to combine vaccines for the booster dose, regardless of which inoculation was received first.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already authorized the expansion of the booster enforcement campaign on Wednesday, and a CDC advisory panel also backed it on Thursday. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made the final decision on who will receive the additional doses.
“These last 20 months have taught us many things, but above all to be humble,” he told the panel. “We are constantly learning about this virus, increasing the evidence base and accumulating more data.”
There are still restrictions on who is eligible for a booster and when. From the first six months after their last dose of Pfizer, the population is called to receive a booster if they are older than 65 years, residents of nursing homes, or are at least 50 years old and are at risk of disease serious for health problems. Boosters are also allowed to be given, albeit less urgently, to adults of any age at increased risk of infection, whether due to health problems, their employment situation, or living conditions. This includes health workers, teachers, and people in prisons or homeless shelters.
Moderna’s booster will be half a dose of the two original injections.
For those who received the J&J single-dose vaccine, a booster is recommended for everyone at least two months after receiving it. This is because the J&J vaccine has not been as effective as Moderna and Pfizer’s two-shot options.
The CDC panel did not explicitly recommend that no one receive an injection of a different brand than the one they used first, but left the option open, saying only that it recommended a booster of some kind. Some of the advisers said they would prefer that those who received the J&J vaccine received a competitor booster, citing preliminary data from an ongoing government study that suggested a further rise in virus-fighting antibodies from that combination of inoculations. .
“We’re at a different time from the pandemic than we were before,” when supply problems meant that people had to get whatever vaccine was available, said CDC adviser Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University. .
He said that “there is no price” to be able to choose a different vaccine for the booster in case, for example, someone is at risk of contracting an unusual side effect from a specific vaccine.
About two-thirds of Americans eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines are already fully vaccinated, and the government says the priority remains to give the first dose to those who have not yet been vaccinated. While health authorities hope the additional doses will bolster waning immunity against milder coronavirus infections, vaccines offer strong protection against hospitalization and death, even at a time when the delta variant, which is extra contagious, was spreading across the country.
The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while those inoculated with J&J represent about 15 million.