WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions more Americans are closer to getting a COVID-19 booster as influential government advisers on Thursday endorsed extra doses of all three of the nation’s vaccines — and said people could choose a different company’s brand for that next shot.
Certain people who received Pfizer vaccinations months ago already are eligible for a booster and now advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say certain Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients should qualify, too. And in a bigger change, the panel opened the option of “mixing and matching” that would allow a different vaccine for the extra dose than the kind people first received.
The Food and Drug Administration had already authorized such an expansion of the nation’s booster campaign on Wednesday, but the CDC, guided by its advisory panel, has the final word on who should roll up their sleeves. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to rule soon.
About two-thirds of Americans eligible for COVID-19 shots are fully vaccinated, and several million have gotten additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine after the FDA and CDC gave that go-ahead last month. While health authorities hope boosters will shore up waning immunity against milder coronavirus infections, all the vaccines still offer strong protection against hospitalizations and death — and getting the unvaccinated their first shots remain a priority.
“For most individuals, in most circumstances, death from COVID-19 is vaccine-preventable,” said CDC adviser Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
Pfizer’s boosters were recommended for everyone 65 and older, nursing home residents, and younger adults at increased risk of infection because of health problems, jobs or living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.
The FDA cleared Moderna’s half-dose booster for those same groups, also six months after the last shot.
But for J&J’s single-shot vaccine, the FDA said all U.S. recipients need wait only two months following their initial vaccination. The agency said any adult who got the J&J shot should be eligible for a booster — a decision driven by research showing a single J&J dose was significantly less effective than a two-dose Pfizer or Moderna.
As for the mix-and-match question, the FDA opened the way for anyone eligible for a booster to get any of the country’s three authorized brands for that extra dose. The FDA stressed the practicality of being able to get whatever booster a particular pharmacy or clinic is offering, particularly in nursing homes and other institutional settings where residents have received different shots over time.
The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while J&J recipients account for only about 15 million.