The U.S. has launched a prime campaign to offer booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans. On September 22, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 single-dose booster shot. The following day, the CDC approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for older Americans and other vulnerable populations. The CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensk, overruled FDA’s vaccine panel by expanding the dosage access to Americans living and working in high-risk occupational and institutional settings.
The Need for a Booster Shot
Clinical studies communicate that after getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, protection against the disease may decrease over time and offer less protection against the Delta variant. Although the vaccines remain highly effective in preventing the virus for adults aged 65 years and older, recent data suggests that the primary vaccination is even less effective at preventing the extra-infectious variant(s). Additional data from studies also suggest that among healthcare and several other frontline workers, the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection tends to decrease over time. This level of effectiveness is most likely due to the combination of decreasing protection over time and the rising number of cases of the Delta variant.
Benefits of a Booster Shot
New data from several clinical trials communicates that a Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose increases immune response in participants who received the primary series of the vaccine six months ago. The booster would increase immune response, and therefore offer more protection against the Delta variant. The booster shot approval makes approximately 60 million high-risk Americans eligible for a third dose.
The following list provides guidelines for the eligibility of certain individuals who can receive Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots at least six months after the completion of the primary series:
- 65 years and older
- Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings
- Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions
- Age 18+ who work in high-risk settings
- Age 18+ who live in high-risk settings
Booster Shots for Students
U.S. health officials have endorsed Pfizer booster shots for all Americans 65 and older, along with millions of younger Americans who are at a higher risk due to health conditions or jobs.
Booster doses for younger children and students are expected to be approved in the not-too-distant future. Some institutions are offering a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for students at high risk for the virus. However, clinical data for the effect of booster shots on Americans aged under 18 is yet to be released.
Currently, the CDC recommends that everyone 12 years of age and older should get the primary shot(s) of the vaccination to protect against the virus. Widespread vaccination remains a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.
The Real Issue
Even with the campaign’s initial success, federal health officials stress that the real issue remains at providing primary vaccine shots to the unvaccinated.
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky warns, “We will not boost our way out of this pandemic.” Currently, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain among the unvaccinated population, Walensky notes. All three Covid vaccines offer robust protection against the virus, hospitalization, and death.
After initial booster eligibility confusion, health officials have cleared up who should get a booster and why. Walensky labels this as “a first step” of the booster campaign. Officials also note that the booster recommendations are strictly limited to people originally vaccinated with shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech. More data and decisions on boosters for Americans who have received the Moderna or J&J vaccine are yet to come.
President Biden stated that if you’re vaccinated, “You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.” The White House also urged those eligible for an extra shot to “go get the booster.”
The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, cautioned against seeking a Pfizer booster shot before the recommended six months.
“You get much more of a bang out of the shot” by letting the immune system mature long enough, he explained. Additionally, the U.S. has already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine for certain Americans with weakened immune systems.
Currently, around 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the total population.
- Check your local pharmacy’s website to see if vaccination walk-ins or appointments are available. Some examples of pharmacies that offer free vaccinations include Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS.
- Contact your state or local health department for more information.