US opens up COVID boosters to all adults, urges 50+
Washington — The United States on Friday opened up COVID-19 booster screenshots to all adults and took the extra step of urging people 50 and older to look for one, aiming to avoid a winter surge as coronavirus cases soar even before millions of Americans travel to spend their vacation. Holidays.
So far, Americans have faced a confusing list of people who are eligible for a booster dose that varies by age, their health, and the type of vaccine they got first. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized changes to Pfizer and Moderna boosters to make it easier.
Under the new rules, anyone 18 or older can choose a Pfizer or Moderna booster six months after their last dose. For anyone who has received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the wait has been only two months. People can mix and match with reinforcements from any company.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that people need something simpler — and that’s, I think, simple,” FDA Vaccines Chief Dr. Peter Marks told The Associated Press.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to approve before the new policy became official late Friday. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walinsky, endorsed a recommendation from her agency’s scientific advisors that — in addition to offering a booster dose to all adults — stressed the need to urge people 50 and older to get one.
“It’s a stronger recommendation,” said CDC advisor Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente, Colorado. “I want to make sure that we offer as much protection as possible.”
The CDC also made an appeal to those who previously qualified but haven’t yet registered for a booster dose to quit putting it off — saying that older Americans and people with risks such as obesity, diabetes or other health problems should try to get one. On the one before the holidays.
The expansion makes tens of millions of Americans eligible for an additional dose of protection.
Priority No. 1 for the United States and the world continues to be getting first doses from people who are not immunized. The three COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States continue to provide powerful protection against severe disease, including hospitalization and death, without a booster dose.
But protection against infection can wane over time, and the United States and many countries in Europe are also wrestling with the prevalence of recommending booster drugs while battling the winter wave of new cases. In the United States, COVID-19 diagnoses have risen steadily over the past three weeks, especially in states where cold weather has already driven people indoors.
And about a dozen states did not wait for federal officials to act before opening reinforcements to all adults.
“The trend isn’t good. People are going inland more, and ‘oops,’ next week is going to be the biggest travel week of the year, so maybe it makes sense for us to do everything we can here to try to turn the tide,” Marks told the AP.
Vaccinations began in the United States last December, about a year after the coronavirus first emerged. More than 195 million Americans have now been fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of J&J. More than 32 million have already received a booster dose, a large proportion – 17 million – 65 years of age or older. Experts say this is reassuring because the elderly are particularly at risk of contracting COVID-19 and have been among the first to have their initial vaccinations.
Teen boosters haven’t been discussed yet, and child-sized doses of the Pfizer vaccine are now being rolled out for children ages 5 to 11.
The Biden administration had originally planned to use the boosters for all adults, but so far, US health authorities – with the support of their scientific advisors – have questioned the need for such a large-scale campaign. Instead, they first endorsed Pfizer or Moderna boosters only for vulnerable groups such as older Americans or those at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to health issues, their jobs or their living conditions.
This time, experts agreed that the overall benefits of added protection from a third dose for any adult — six months after the last dose — outweigh the risks of rare side effects from either Moderna or Pfizer’s vaccines, such as a type of carditis that often appears in young adults.
Several other countries have discouraged use of Moderna’s vaccine in young adults due to this concern, citing data indicating that rare side effects may occur more frequently with this vaccine than with competitors.
Pfizer told Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisers that in a booster study in 10,000 people as young as 16, there were no more serious side effects from a third vaccine dose than the previous one. That study found that a booster restored protection against symptomatic infections to about 95% even while the highly infectious delta variant was increasing.
Britain recently released factual data showing the same leap in protection once it began offering boosters to middle-aged and elderly adults, and Israel has widely credited the boosters with helping to weather another wave of the virus.
While vaccines stimulate immune memory that protects against severe illness, protection against infection depends on levels of antiviral antibodies that diminish over time. No one knows yet how long antibody levels will remain high after the boost.
Even increased temporary protection from infection may help during winters and holidays, said Dr. Sarah Oliver of the CDC.
Some experts worry that all attention to boosters may harm efforts to reach the 47 million adults in the United States who remain unvaccinated. There is also growing concern that rich countries provide boosters on a large scale when poor countries cannot vaccinate more than a small portion of their population.
“In terms of priority No. 1 to reduce transmission in this country and around the world, that remains to get people the first series of vaccines,” said Dr. David Dowdy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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