On Wednesday, Aug. 18, the Biden administration announced plans to offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to Americans beginning on Sept. 20, 2021. The plan has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but those who were first to be inoculated in the initial vaccine rollout, including healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and senior citizens, will be prioritized.
Booster shots will be available to all fully vaccinated adults 18 years and older eight months after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. For example, if someone got their second COVID vaccine on April 1, 2021, they will be eligible for a booster beginning on December 1, 2021.
In a White House press briefing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky pointed to three new studies published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that show protection from infection gradually decreases over time. Additionally, she noted that the vaccines are generally less effective against the highly transmissible delta variant.
Citing a study conducted in New York, Walensky said that vaccine effectiveness was 92% in May, but protection had reduced to 80% just months later in July.
“To be clear, our top priority is to save lives and prevent severe infections,” Walensky said. “And even though our vaccines are currently working well to prevent hospitalizations, we are seeing concerning evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness over time and against the delta variant.”
Booster shots will initially be available only for Americans who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. As a result, nearly 14 million Americans who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will have to wait slightly longer.
“For people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we anticipate vaccine boosters will likely be needed,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said. “We expect more data in the coming weeks. With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed with a timely plan for [Johnson & Johnson] booster shots.”
It’s also worth noting that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout didn‘t begin until March 1. If the data suggests a similar eight-month timeline for a booster, those who received the single-shot dose wouldn’t be eligible until Nov. 1 at the earliest.
Walensky emphasized that the most important thing to note is that vaccines continue to offer the best protection against severe illness from COVID-19.
“While we are still learning about how these vaccines perform over time and how long they will last against emerging variants, one thing is very clear,” Walensky said. “Getting vaccinated can keep you out of the hospital; getting vaccinated can save your life.”