White House Recommends COVID-19 Booster Shot 8 Months Post-Vaccination

by Joseph K. Clark

The White House announced Wednesday that most Americans will need booster shots eight months after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines to combat the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

In a joint statement, the nation’s top healthcare officials said that although the vaccines are highly effective, data shows that their protection lessens over time, meaning that fully vaccinated individuals might be more susceptible to mild and moderate disease.

“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those at higher risk or who 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,” a group of eight officials, including infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in the statement.

Boosters will be available beginning Sept. 20 for people eight months from their last shot. At a news conference Wednesday, Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said it would be “just as easy” to get a booster as it was to get the first two shots.

A booster shot is likely for those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, the company has not yet completed a clinical trial evaluating the effectiveness of an additional dose. Several officials spoke at the news conference of the need to “stay ahead of this virus.”

“If you wait for something bad to happen before you respond to it, you find yourselves considerably behind your real full capability of being responsive,” Fauci said.


Nursing home residents, healthcare workers, and emergency respondents will likely be prioritized as they were late last year when the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency approval to distribute the vaccines. The agency has yet to approve the three COVID-19 vaccines currently spread nationwide fully. Still, it is expected to grant the Pfizer drug full approval this fall.

The booster shot announcement was expected and has already been met with strong criticism from the World Health Organization and those. They point out the extraordinary difficulty that poor nations have had in obtaining and distributing even one round of shots. Booster shots “will exacerbate inequities by driving up demand and consuming scarce supply,” the WHO said earlier this month.

The panel of U.S. health experts appeared to acknowledge the criticism in their statement, emphasizing “the ongoing urgency of vaccinating the unvaccinated in the U.S. and around the world.”

“Nearly all the cases of severe disease, hospitalization, and death continue to occur among those not yet vaccinated at all,” their statement read.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said at Wednesday’s news conference that he does “not accept the idea that we have to choose between America and the world.” Zients had a similar message, telling reporters, “to end this pandemic, we have to protect the American people, and we have to continue to do more and more to vaccinate the world.”

Both officials pointed to U.S. efforts to help expand manufacturing capabilities in under-vaccinated parts of the world. However, a limited supply of critical materials has presented a hurdle to ramping up manufacturing further.

Public health experts say that helping the world vaccinate against COVID-19 is essential to putting the pandemic behind us. When the virus is allowed to spread unchecked, it has more opportunity to mutate into new and potentially even more dangerous versions of itself. 

Unvaccinated patients make up the vast majority of those who are seriously ill. One of those variants, delta, is currently driving up case counts in much of the United States. The picture is bleak in the South, and hospitals in Arkansas and Louisiana have reported running dangerously low on room in their intensive care units.

More than 36 million people have had documented cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 620,000 have died since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

“Our vaccines continue to offer the best protection against severe COVID illness,” Walensky said Wednesday. “While we are still learning how these vaccines perform over time and how long they will last against emerging variants, one thing is obvious: Getting vaccinated can keep you out of the hospital. Getting vaccinated can save your life.”

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