The United States will begin to offer a third "booster" dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who have had their second dose at least eight months prior, health officials announced today. The move aims to prolong the high efficacy of the vaccine, the protection from which begins to wane after a certain amount of time.
All eligible Americans that received Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech shots will be able to get a booster beginning the week of September 20. Recipients of Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine will likely need a booster, but officials are awaiting more data before making an official recommendation.
“The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States continue to be remarkably effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant,” federal health officials, including CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky, acting FDA Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock, and White House chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci, said in a statement.
“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”
The US is currently experiencing another wave of the disease as the more prolific Delta variant spreads through the still unvaccinated population, including children. Over 144,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the country on August 17. Currently, about half of the US population is fully vaccinated.
The move, however, is at odds with the World Health Organization's recent call for a halt of COVID vaccine boosters to prioritize distribution of vaccines to low-income countries that haven't received first doses yet before non-at-risk people in wealthy countries get a third dose.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on August 4. “I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected."
When asked about this during a press conference on August 17, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the US will do both, boosting immunizations for Americans and distributing vaccines to the rest of the world.
“We believe that is a false choice. We can do both,” Psaki said. “The United States is far and away the biggest contributor to the global fight against Covid. We will continue to be the arsenal for vaccines around the world. We also have enough supply and had long planned enough supply should a booster be needed for the eligible population.”
While many rich countries have pledged hundreds of millions of vaccines for the poorest in the world, those doses will come from future production not from the ones currently kept in stock in these countries.