While COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now available to tens of millions of Americans, President Joe Biden signaled on Sept. 24 that the boosters will in the future be authorized for practically anybody.
The Food and Drug Administration last week expanded emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, enabling certain groups to get a third dose of the jab. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that anybody 65 or older get an additional Pfizer shot and allowed that many people 18 or older such as teachers or health care workers could get a Pfizer booster.
The populations covered by the new regulations and guidance equal 60 million Americans, Biden said in Washington while delivering remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic, 20 million of whom are currently eligible for a third dose.
Besides needing to fit into a certain category, people also need to wait at least six months after they received their second Pfizer dose to get a booster.
“If you got the Pfizer vaccine in January, February, or March of this year and you’re over 65 years of age, go get the booster. Or if you have a medical condition like diabetes or you’re a front-line worker like a health care worker or a teacher, you can a free booster now,” Biden said.
While the president plans to get a booster himself because he’s over 65, he isn’t sure when exactly that would happen.
Asked what he would tell Americans who aren’t eligible for a booster under the new rules, Biden said he wasn’t sure how they can still get it. He also suggested it wouldn’t matter soon because he believes the authorization will be expanded even further in the future.
“I think what’s going to happen is, in the near-term, we’re probably going to open this up anyway. We’re constantly looking at both Moderna and J&J and in addition to that we’re also looking to the time when we’re going to be able to expand the booster shots basically across the board,” he said.
“I would just say, it would be better to wait your turn in line. Wait your turn to get there.”
The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment, pointing instead to its previous authorization expansion announcement. The CDC didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
Top Biden administration health officials last month said they were recommending boosters for anybody who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine but they made the announcement before any government bodies officially ruled on boosters. Critics have accused the administration of not waiting for the science, an argument bolstered when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, on Sept. 24 overruled the CDC’s vaccine advisory panel and letting anybody between the ages of 18 and 64 who are at “increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting” get a booster.
Panel members, a consortium of non-government experts, expressed concern about rushing to let young, healthy people get a booster. Some said the scant data on boosters didn’t support allowing many young people to get a third short, particularly given youth are at elevated risk of heart inflammation from the Moderna and Pfizer jabs.
Biden didn’t address that and wasn’t asked about Walensky’s unusual decision. He also didn’t touch on the issue of natural immunity, or people who recover from COVID-19 and enjoy a high protection against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. CDC officials have said those people should still get vaccinated, a stance many experts disagree with.
“I’ve made clear all along, the decision of which booster shot to give, when to start the shot, and who will get them is left to the scientists and the doctors. That’s what happened here,” he said at one point.
Biden said that boosters will be free and tried comforting Americans who received a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, in an example of the dual messages his administration has attempted to promote.
“You still have a high degree of protection,” he said, adding that government scientists are working to analyze data on those vaccines.
“The bottom line is, if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re highly protected from severe illness even if you get COVID-19. In fact, recent data indicates there’s only one confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per day. You’re as safe as possible. You’re in good shape. And we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.”
The White House didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment on the source of the data.
Officials have said that vaccine efficacy is waning dramatically against infection of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19. But they’ve also said the drop in effectiveness is much less severe when it comes to protecting against serious disease and hospitalization, particularly in healthy, younger people.
Food and Drug Administration officials told a meeting on Sept. 23 that there was no timeline for authorizing boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots. They are the only COVID-19 vaccines authorized or approved for use in the United States at this time, along with Pfizer’s jab.
But both Moderna and J&J are pushing for booster approval.