Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the definition of “fully vaccinated” won’t change when COVID-19 booster shots are rolled out—at least in the near future.
Currently, the CDC and other federal health agencies have defined one as fully vaccinated if they receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, two doses of Moderna’s vaccine, or one Johnson & Johnson shot.
In Israel, officials recently announced individuals who have not received a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine after six months will not be counted as fully vaccinated. It means they won’t be able to use the “green pass” vaccine passport that is utilized for restaurants, gyms, and other venues in Israel.
When asked whether the CDC will change its definition, Walensky said that “we are not changing the definition right now of fully vaccinated.”
As the agency gathers more “experience with our third shot and have more people who are recommended” to get the shot, then the CDC may change its guidelines around boosters, Walensky said during the White House’s COVID-19 response team briefing.
Across the United States, some businesses and government agencies have made it mandatory for workers to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Should the CDC and other health agencies change its policy around who can be considered fully vaccinated, the rule would potentially impact tens of millions of people.
Several weeks ago, Israel, which has one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, set an expiration date for its vaccine passport. Now, a booster shot received within six months of the second dose extends the passport’s validity by six months.
That decision came just days after the country started offering COVID-19 boosters to all vaccinated people.
Walenksy’s remarks come just hours after a CDC panel on late Thursday recommended Pfizer boosters for individuals aged 65 and older. The panel also overwhelmingly voted for a booster for people between the ages of 50 and 64 who have underlying health issues, and voted in favor of providing the third dose for anyone who is being treated at a long-term care facility.
“Prevention of infection may protect health care capacity and other essential services for the COVID-19 response and maintain overall function for society,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a CDC official on the panel.
The World Health Organization has sharply criticized the U.S., Israel, and other wealthy nations for trying to develop and approve booster doses for their populations, arguing that poorer countries are still in dire need of COVID-19 vaccines.