Top health officials in the federal government recommended Wednesday that adults who have taken the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines seek out a booster shot eight months after becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
While the booster shots are still subject to final approval from a key CDC vaccine panel and the FDA, the White House said Wednesday that the booster program would likely begin on Sept. 20.
"The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease," top health officials said in a joint statement Wednesday. "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. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability."
White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients said that all adults should seek out boosters starting eight months after their final shot — for example, those who became fully vaccinated on Feb. 1 would be eligible for a booster on Oct. 1.
The guidance only covers those 18 and older. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Wednesday that the FDA would provide further advice on fully vaccinated 16- and 17-year-olds at a later date.
Murthy added that the White House did not issue guidance on potential Johnson & Johnson vaccine boosters because they were not widely administered until March, and the government is still gathering data on its long-term effectiveness. Murthy said that he "expects" Johnson & Johnson recipients will need a booster at some point.
The COVID-19 response team noted that while all data currently shows that the vaccines have not yet shown signs of waning protection against hospitalization and death, new studies show that effectiveness against mild and moderate virus cases has waned over time.
Studies from Israel — one of the first countries to administer COVID-19 vaccines widespread — have shown that protection offered by Pfizer's vaccine has waned in elderly people in the months after a second shot.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said officials were "concerned" that the vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization and death could wane in the future, which is why officials are recommending boosters now.
President Joe Biden will deliver his own remarks on the booster shot recommendations Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.
The briefings on Wednesday come as hospitalizations and deaths from the virus continue to rise throughout the U.S. Hospitals are filling up quickly with COVID-19 patients, particularly in areas with low rates of vaccination. The country is now seeing more than 500 COVID-19 deaths a day, the highest rate since May.
The current spike in cases is being driven by those who have not been vaccinated for the virus. Earlier this month, the CDC reported that 99.99% of people vaccinated had avoided a severe or deadly COVID-19 infection. In addition, White House officials reported last week that a handful of states with low vaccination rates represented half of the nation's new cases and hospitalizations in the last week, despite representing only about 25% of the country's population.