The Biden administration is recommending booster doses for most Americans who received a coronavirus vaccine in order to combat waning immunity and the prevalence of the delta variant.
In a joint statement Wednesday, top administration health officials said people would need boosters beginning eight months after their second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.
The officials include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskySunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters GOP leaders escalate battle against COVID-19 vaccine mandates Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Study finds Pfizer vaccine almost 91 percent effective for 5 to 11 year olds MORE, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Fauci says it's recommended to get same vaccine for COVID-19 boosters The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat MORE, Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthySunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Communities are the front lines in the battle against misinformation Fauci says it's recommended to get same vaccine for COVID-19 boosters MORE and acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Janet Woodcock.
"The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease," the officials said in the statement.
Administration of the boosters will begin Sept. 20. At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster, the officials said.
Booster doses will also be delivered directly to residents of long-term care facilities.
"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. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability," officials said.
The move is subject to an independent evaluation by the FDA to determine the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issuing booster dose recommendations "based on a thorough review of the evidence."
Officials said they anticipate booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but they are still examining the evidence, with more data expected in the coming weeks
Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March, so boosters wouldn't be needed until November at the earliest.
The announcement represents a rapid and dramatic shift in policy for the administration, which for months has been trying to tamp down a push for booster doses. Officials have repeatedly said it was not clear whether boosters would be needed.
In July, the CDC and FDA put out a joint statement that pushed back after Pfizer suggested booster shots.
“Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time," the agencies said.
But the messaging has softened in recent days. Last week, Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, said it was “likely” everyone will need a coronavirus booster at some point.
The decision to provide boosters has significant implications domestically as well as abroad. Just more than 50 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and while the pace of vaccinations has been increasing in recent weeks, millions are not vaccinated and have no interest in rolling up their sleeves.
Officials have tried to walk a fine line: They want to make sure the U.S. is prepared for any future COVID-19 complications while also prioritizing reaching the remaining unvaccinated.
The White House has also promised to be a world leader in donating the vaccine abroad, and officials Wednesday said that is not changing.
"I do not accept the idea that we have to choose between America and the world," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said during a press briefing.
"We clearly see our responsibility to both, and that we've got to do everything we can to protect people here at home while recognizing that ending the pandemic across the world and getting people vaccinated is going to be key to preventing the rise of future variants," Murthy said.
Still, Murthy added that "when we see data that is giving us, essentially, indications that protection is starting to diminish ... we have to act."
Updated at 12:32 p.m.