The government says millions of older and at-risk Americans should receive a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The recommendations were approved Thursday by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They were made by the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of scientific advisers.
“In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” Walensky said in a statement.
The boosters are intended to provide additional protection against the coronavirus, which has infected 42.8 million Americans and killed nearly 700,000 — a death toll that includes more than 53,000 Floridians.
The new guidelines also offer the option of a booster for people whose jobs put them at higher risk of exposure to the virus such as healthcare workers. That recommendation was initially rejected by the agency’s advisory panel but Walensky implemented it anyway, which is in line with guidance from the Food and Drug Administration.
Who should get a booster shot?
The government recommends booster shots for people 65 years and older, residents in long-term care and people ages 50-64 with underlying health conditions. Ages 18-49 with underlying health conditions may also receive a booster shot.
The CDC also recommends a booster for people ages 18-64 who are at increased risk of catching COVID-19 through workor where they live. That includes health care workers, those in homeless shelters, prison guards and inmates.
The recommendations apply only to the Pfizer vaccine. Booster shots should be given six months after the last injection.
People with compromised immune systems are already eligible for another dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But that is considered a three-dose regimen to reach full vaccination, as opposed to a booster.
How do I get my booster shot?
The government is expected to announce plans for rolling out the booster shot in the coming days. It is anticipated it will be administered at many of the same locations where the first doses were given out, including pharmacies, doctors’ offices and local health departments.
CVS Health announced Friday that it is offering the Pfizer booster shot to eligible people at select locations, including 649 stores in Florida.
I got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Do I get a booster?
The CDC has yet to issue guidance on the two other primary vaccines used in the U.S. except to say recommendations should be coming soon. Like the Pfizer shot, Moderna is a mRNA vaccine that required two shots. The J&J shot is a more traditional vaccine that uses a disabled copy of the virus to stimulate antibodies and only requires one shot.
“We will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as those data are available,” Walensky said.
What underlying health conditions qualify someone for a booster?
The CDC listed a wide range of illnesses and conditions that could make contracting COVID-19 riskier for some. They include cancer, chronic kidney disease, asthma, diabetes, Down syndrome, pregnancy, obesity and heart conditions. It advises that administering a booster for those ages 18-49 should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Does the booster protect against the delta variant?
Scientists believe the vaccines are highly effective at protecting people from developing severe illness and death, including from the delta strain. But the vaccines were developed before scientists were aware of the delta variant and data suggests that, over time, there is a decline in how well they protect against less serious COVID symptoms.
I haven’t been vaccinated yet. Is it too late?
Getting as many Americans vaccinated as possible still remains the top priority for ending the pandemic, Walensky said, although there are concerns that rolling out a booster program will detract from that goal. Only 55 percent of the nation’s total population and 64 percent of those eligible — ages 12 and up —are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The vaccine has yet to be approved for those 11 and under, but news reports suggest it could happen in October.
First and second doses are still being offered at health departments, pharmacies, some grocery stores and pop-up vaccination clinics.
“While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world,” Walensky said.
Are COVID vaccines safe?
Vaccines have a proven history of safely eradicating infectious diseases, and the data says COVID vaccines are also safe. Serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines like Guillain-Barré Syndrome were linked to just 100 cases out of almost 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses.
In the U.S. alone, more than 388 million doses have been given out, according to the CDC and almost 183 million people are classified as fully vaccinated.