© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A patient receives their coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine booster during a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination clinic in Southfield, Michigan, U.S., September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Emily Elconin
By Michael Erman and Manas Mishra
(Reuters) – Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday recommended expanding eligibility of COVID-19 vaccine boosters to all adults in the United States, which would pave the way for millions more Americans to get additional protection against the virus.
Earlier on Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the broader use of booster doses for adults who had received their second shot of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna (NASDAQ:) Inc vaccines at least six months prior.
It had previously allowed the additional shot for all recipients of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:)’s one-dose vaccine, two months after their primary dose.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who has publicly supported boosters for all, needs to sign off on the expert panel’s recommendations.
After about two months of declining infections, the United States has reported daily increases for the past two weeks, driven by the more easily transmitted Delta variant of the virus and people spending more time indoors due to colder weather.
The panel of outside advisers to the CDC voted unanimously to recommend expanding eligibility to everyone aged 18 and older, but stopped short of saying all adults should get a booster. For those aged 18 to 49, the panel said individuals may get the vaccine if they choose to.
The panel also moved to further clarify recommendations for people aged 50 to 64, suggesting all in this age group should get a booster, rather than only those with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.
Several panel members and presenters at the meeting suggested that improving the clarity of recommendations might increase use of the additional shots.
“The current guidelines – though well intentioned and thoughtful – generate an obstacle to uptake of boosters. In pursuit of precision, they create confusion,” said Nirav Shah, a top Maine public health official and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
“Our concern is that eligible individuals are not receiving boosters right now,” Shah said.
Most adults had already been eligible for the additional shots, but fewer than 18% had received one, according to CDC data.
IMPROVED IMMUNE RESPONSE
The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that boosters, along with increasing overall vaccination, should help the country move beyond the worst of the pandemic in the coming months.
The FDA said its decision was supported by data showing that a third round of shots increased the immune response to the virus in studies of both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
Some scientists remain concerned about rare cases of heart inflammation in young men following vaccination, particularly for recipients of Moderna’s vaccine. Data from Israel suggested the rate of heart inflammation following a third dose of the Pfizer (NYSE:) vaccine is lower than after a second dose.
More than 32 million Americans have already received boosters, which had been authorized for the immunocompromised, those aged 65 and above, and for individuals with health issues that put them at high-risk of severe disease, including obesity, or who are regularly exposed to the virus through work or living conditions.
Some states in recent days had opened them to all adults ahead of FDA authorization, creating a patchwork of eligibility.
The Biden Administration first proposed boosters for everyone in August, but has made them available in stages as health experts argued there was not enough data to support the need for further vaccination in all groups.
Nearly 60% of adult Americans – some 195.7 million people – are considered fully vaccinated, having received two doses of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or one shot of J&J’s vaccine.