COVID-19 booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are set to become available for all U.S. adults beginning next month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
“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,” HHS said Wednesday morning.
“For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
The statement said that a plan would go into effect from the week of Sept. 20 subject to the Food and Drug Administration “conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence.”
Health officials said people who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would also likely need an additional shot to prolong its effectiveness against coronavirus infection and to reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
People 18 years and older who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be eligible for a booster dose eight months after their second dose, officials said.
“We know that even highly effective vaccines become less effective over time,” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said at a White House briefing shortly after the statement was released.
“It is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for COVID boosters is now,” he said.
He said health officials were concerned about “waning immunity and the strength of the delta variant” of the coronavirus.
“We are concerned that this pattern of decline will continue in the coming months,” Murthy said.
The announcement comes as health officials across the country are battling a new wave of COVID-19 cases linked to the highly transmissible delta variant. The latest infections have once again pushed intensive care unit occupancy rates to the breaking point in multiple states, especially those with low rates of vaccination.
Since the start of the pandemic some 20 months ago, more than 623,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, according to figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University.