Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday recommended expanding eligibility of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots 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 broader use of booster doses for adults who had received their second shot of either the Pfizer Inc /BioNTech SE or Moderna Inc vaccines at least six months prior.
It had previously allowed the additional shot for all recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.
Final regulatory review now moves to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who has publicly supported boosters for all and needs to sign off on the expert panel’s recommendations.
The panel of outside advisers to the CDC voted unanimously to recommend expanding eligibility to all adults aged 18 and older, but stopped short of saying all adults should get a booster shot. For younger adults aged 18 to 49, the panel said individuals may get the vaccine if they choose to.
The panel also moved to further clarify the recommendations for people aged 50 to 64, suggesting that all in this age group should get a booster, rather than only those who have underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.
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 nation’s top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said this week that boosters, along with increasing overall vaccination rates, 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.
More than 32 million Americans have already received boosters, which had been approved for people in several categories in the United States. Some states in recent days had opened them to all adults ahead of FDA authorization, creating a patchwork of eligibility.
“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, noting that no states had voiced opposition to the expanding 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 scientific data to support the need for further vaccination in all groups.
Booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been available for people who are immunocompromised, those aged 65 and above, and for individuals at high-risk of severe disease or who are regularly exposed to the virus through work or living conditions. (Reporting by Manas Mishra and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; writing by Caroline Humer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)
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