All American adults now eligible for coronavirus booster shots

Booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines are now available to anyone in the U.S. over the age of 18, after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Omicron sets off a flurry of responses CDC strengthens recommendation to say all adults should get booster shot Europe's COVID-19 surge highlights warnings for US MORE signed off on the recommendations of an agency advisory panel.

Effective immediately, tens of millions of people who are at least six months past their last Pfizer or Moderna shot are eligible for a booster dose. 

Friday's action represents the culmination of a long-running debate among experts over who should be eligible for booster shots and belatedly delivers on President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE's promise of widespread boosters for all adults by September.

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The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said that all adults are eligible, and in a second, last-minute vote, they explicitly recommended that everyone over the age of 50 should get a booster.

Older adults have the clearest benefit from a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine, the panel said, and also less risk of severe side effects like myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart that's been found in younger men.

Earlier in the day, the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays. Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose," Walensky said in a statement.

She also encouraged the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Biden administration officials have been encouraging anyone eligible to get a booster as soon as possible, and authorizing wide availability of both shots ahead of Thanksgiving reflects the administration's concern about the growing numbers of COVID-19 infections. 

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After the seven day average of new cases dipped to about 64,000 on Oct. 24, according to CDC figures, they have been climbing ever since. The seven-day average on Thursday was more than 94,000.

Previously, boosters had been authorized for anyone 65 and older, anyone at high risk because of work or where they live, or those with an underlying medical condition. The conditions were broad, and providers were not supposed to ask for any sort of proof, but many people were confused.

Less than 40 percent of people over the age of 65 have received a booster dose, according to CDC data. Broadly, only about 18 percent of all adults have received a booster.

In the past week, an increasing number of governors took matters into their own hands and broadened eligibility before the federal government did.

The guidance has now been simplified, making it clear that every adult is now able to get a booster six months after finishing the first two doses.

The primary COVID-19 vaccination continues to provide good protection against severe disease and death, even as real world studies show effectiveness against milder infection has waned.

But cases have been steadily rising across the country, and authorities have said they want to stave off another winter surge. 

Studies have shown booster doses can increase antibody levels, which could reduce the ability of people to spread by making it harder for them to get infected in the first place.

Updated at 6:30 p.m.