FDA Authorizes COVID Booster Shots For Everyone In The US Over 18

Data has backed up the idea that a booster shot increases the immune response of people who have already received their first two doses. Image credit: Nicolas Economou/Shutterstock.com

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the go-ahead for Americans over aged 18 to receive a third COVID-19 booster shot.

On Friday morning, the FDA announced it has extended the emergency use authorization for individuals over 18 years to receive a booster dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine six months after they received their second dose. 

“The FDA has determined that the currently available data support expanding the eligibility of a single booster dose of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to individuals 18 years of age and older,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement

“Streamlining the eligibility criteria and making booster doses available to all individuals 18 years of age and older will also help to eliminate confusion about who may receive a booster dose and ensure booster doses are available to all who may need one.”

Prior to this move, booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine were only available for people 65 and older, people aged 18 who have underlying medical conditions, and adults who work or live in high-risk settings. However, some states had gone ahead and greenlit all adults to have the booster ahead of the FDA recommendation due to rising COVID cases. 

Adults who received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine — which was originally intended as a single dose vaccine — can receive a second booster shot two months after receiving their first dose.

COVID-19 booster shots are the same formulation as the usual COVID-19 vaccines, although the Moderna booster shot is half the dose of the initial two doses. 

The need for booster shots isn’t to say the vaccine rollout isn’t working. COVID-19 vaccines are still doing a good job at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. However, public health authorities have seen that antibodies against the virus from the vaccine are waning as time goes on (which is how all vaccines work). 

Data has backed up the idea that a booster shot increases the immune response of people who have already received their first two doses. However, booster shots have received criticism as they broaden the already wide vaccine inequality between higher and lower-income nations. While richer nations offer their population the third dose, only  4.6 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and many aren't expected to have widespread access to COVID vaccines until 2023As such, the World Health Organization (WHO) has criticized the use of booster shots as “exacerbating inequities in vaccine access.”

“Broad administration of booster doses is unfair, unjust & immoral at a time when health workers & at most risk people in many countries, mainly in Africa, haven't received a first vaccination dose. Countries should respect the moratorium,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted in October 2021. 

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