Millions of Americans can sign up to get a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson booster shot starting Friday, a dramatic expansion of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave the green light to the Biden administration’s plans to offer coronavirus booster shots, saying Americans could choose which vaccine to get as a booster regardless of the inoculations they initially received. A day earlier, the Food and Drug Administration had authorized additional doses of the two vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy.
“The evidence shows that all three [COVID-19] vaccines authorized in the United States are safe — as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” Walensky said in a statement just hours after a panel of CDC experts endorsed the booster program. “And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating delta variant.”
The ruling is a win for President Joe Biden, who had pledged to offer booster jabs for all adults earlier this year amid a dramatic surge in new infections linked to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The FDA already authorized Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for many at-risk Americans last month, saying those 65 and older, people with high-risk conditions or anyone who works in a high-exposure job could receive a third shot to increase their protection against COVID-19. Those boosters are available at least six months after a second dose of the vaccine and are meant to restore high protection against the virus, particularly as the delta variant spreads.
The Moderna booster, administered as a half-dose of the original shot, will have similar restrictions. But a second Johnson & Johnson jab will be available to anyone 18 and older who received the initial dose at least two months after the first shot. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only one-dose inoculation available in the U.S.
All of the vaccines authorized in the U.S. remain highly effective against serious illness and death associated with COVID-19, but studies show that their effectiveness against mild infections may wane after several months.
“Millions of people are newly eligible to receive a booster shot and will benefit from additional protection,” the CDC said in a statement. “However, today’s action should not distract from the critical work of ensuring that unvaccinated people take the first step and get an initial COVID-19 vaccine. More than 65 million Americans remain unvaccinated, leaving themselves — and their children, families, loved ones, and communities — vulnerable.”
The pandemic still has a strong hold on parts of the country, with an average of about 75,000 new infections and 1,500 deaths each day. Cases and fatalities have steadily fallen over the past several weeks, however.