The Biden administration announced on Wednesday a new recommendation that people vaccinated against COVID-19 get another dose eight months after their initial immunization. This comes after mounting evidence that immunity fades over time — and as the highly infectious Delta variant tears through the country.
Booster-shot rollout will begin on September 20, according to officials, after the FDA conducts an independent evaluation of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The first cohort eligible for boosters will likely be the first groups vaccinated, beginning with nursing-home residents, frontline health-care workers, and emergency workers who started to receive shots last December. Third shots for immunocompromised people were already authorized last week. (Officials said that those who received Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine would likely be recommended a second shot, depending on the results of a clinical trial still pending.)
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” the country’s top health officials, including chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci, said in a statement. “For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
Until recently, federal health officials had maintained that booster shots were not necessary (though some 1 million Americans went ahead and got them anyway). The administration has been closely monitoring Israel, where recent data shows waning efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine. (Israel has already begun offering boosters for those over 50.) The ability of the Delta variant to break through vaccination and cause non-severe illness and transmission of the virus — even if the vaccines are still highly effective against hospitalization and death — appears to have also been a factor in changing U.S. policy.
Needless to say, boosters present an enormous logistical challenge. About 38 percent of the over-18 population hasn’t received one shot of the vaccine yet. Convincing everyone who has been fully immunized that they need another shot, while simultaneously trying to change the minds of people who are dead set against being vaccinated — and for whom the existence of boosters might serve as more proof that vaccines aren’t all they’re cracked up to be — will be an uphill battle.