WASHINGTON (AP) – Millions more Americans may get a COVID-19 booster and choose another company’s vaccine for the next injection, federal health officials said Thursday.
Some people who were previously vaccinated by Pfizer months ago are already eligible for a booster and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says specific recipients of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also eligible. And in a bigger change, the agency allows the flexibility to “mix and match” that extra dose, regardless of who you see first.
The Food and Drug Administration had already authorized such an extension of the country’s recall campaign on Wednesday, and it was also approved by a CDC advisory group on Thursday. CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky has had the final say on who will receive the additional doses.
“The past 20 months have taught us a lot of things, but above all to be humble,” she told the panel. “We are constantly learning about this virus, expanding the evidence base and accumulating more data. “
There are always restrictions on who qualifies and when for a recall. Starting six months after their last Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, people are advised to receive a booster if they are 65 years of age or older, resident in a nursing home or at least 50 and are at increased risk of serious illness due to health problems. Recalls were also permitted, but unsolicited, for adults of any age at increased risk of infection due to health, job or living conditions. This includes healthcare workers, teachers, and people in prison or homeless shelters.
Moderna’s booster will come at half the dose of the original two hits.
For recipients of the single-injection J&J vaccine, a COVID-19 booster is recommended for everyone at least two months after their vaccination. This is because the J&J vaccine has not been shown to be as protective as the Moderna or Pfizer two-dose options.
The CDC panel did not explicitly recommend anyone to get a different brand than the one they started with, but left the option open – saying only that some booster of some kind was recommended. And some of the advisers said they would prefer recipients of J&J to receive a competitor’s recall, citing preliminary data from an ongoing government study that suggested a greater increase in anti-virus antibodies from this combination.
“We are in a different place in the pandemic than we were before” when supply constraints meant people had to take whatever hit they were offered, noted CDC adviser Dr Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University.
She characterized being able to choose a different type of booster if, for example, someone might be at risk for a rare side effect from a specific vaccine.
About two-thirds of Americans eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated, and the government says early vaccines for the unvaccinated remain the priority. While health officials hope the boosters will boost waning immunity against milder coronavirus infections, all vaccines still offer strong protection against hospitalization and death, even though the extra-contagious delta variant has burned through the body. country.
And CDC advisers wondered if people who didn’t really need reminders might get them, especially healthy young adults whose only qualification was their job.
Dr Sarah Long of Drexel University has expressed concern that these people may be exposed to rare but serious side effects from another dose if they are already adequately protected.
“I have my own concerns that we seem to be recommending vaccines for people who I think don’t need them,” added Dr. Beth Bell of the University of Washington.
But she stressed that vaccines work and it makes sense to move forward with recommendations to be clear and allow flexibility around boosters.
Despite the concerns of some members, the votes of the panels ended up being unanimous.
The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while J&J recipients are only around 15 million.
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