US regulator approves expansion of COVID vaccine boosters

The CDC recommends boosters for some Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients, approves ‘mix and match’ booster shots.

The CDC recommends boosters for some categories of people who received Moderna shot and for all adults above 18 who received Johnson and Johnson vaccines [File: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given final approval to expand the country’s COVID-19 vaccination booster campaign to some categories of people who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson doses.

The announcement means that millions of people in the US will be able to get a COVID-19 booster, previously only approved for high-risk groups that had received the Pfizer vaccine more than six months ago. The CDC also endorsed a so-called “mix and match” approach to boosters, meaning individuals could receive a different booster dose from the vaccine they initially received.

Now, people in certain groups – which include individuals who are above 65 years, the immunocompromised and high-risk workers – will be able to receive a booster if they have been vaccinated with the Moderna doses more than six months ago. Anyone 18 years and older who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson initial vaccine will be eligible for a booster dose after two months, as the jab has not been proven as protective as the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer options, officials said.

“These past 20 months have taught us many things, but mostly to have humility,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who has the final word on the agency’s recommendations, told a panel of experts. “We are constantly learning about this virus, growing the evidence base and accumulating more data.”

The administration of President Joe Biden said it wants to eventually make booster shots available to all US adults, although some health experts have warned there has not been enough time to determine whether boosters are actually needed for groups considered at lower risk.

During a news briefing on Friday, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zeints said more than 120 million Americans are expected to become eligible for booster shots in the coming months.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, has urged wealthy countries to prioritise addressing global vaccine inequality over widespread booster campaigns, warning the disparity in vaccines could allow new, more contagious or deadly variants to develop and spread.

Even within the groups eligible for the boosters, the CDC only encouraged people above 65 years, residents of nursing homes and people older than 50 years with pre-existing health conditions to get an additional dose.

The agency said boosters were allowed, but not urged, for adults of any age at increased risk of infection because of health problems or their jobs or living conditions – that includes healthcare workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.

About 190 million people in the US have so far been vaccinated against COVID-19, and some 11.6 million people have so far received a booster dose, according to officials.

But vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge. More than 65 million eligible adults have not yet received the first dose, officials said.

On Wednesday, the White House outlined plans to vaccinate the country’s 28 million children ages five to 11, pending approval from health agencies.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have been on the decline, Walensky said on Friday. On average, there are 73,000 new COVID-19 cases every day in the US, down15 percent from last week. Hospitalisations are down 10 percent, with 6,000 new daily admissions. Deaths are down 4 percent from a week prior, with an average of 1,250 people in the US dying from the disease every day.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies