US health officials are recommending that all Americans get COVID-19 booster jabs to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling.
“Recent data makes it clear that protection against mild and moderate disease has decreased over time,” Dr Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, said on Wednesday.
“This is likely due to both waning immunity, and the strength of the widespread Delta variant,” Murthy said in a public briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team.
The plan, outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other top authorities, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of September 20.
The announcement comes as the United States is experiencing a sharp increase in cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with 13,885 COVID fatalities in the past 28 days, and 623,418 since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials said people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will probably need extra shots. But they are awaiting more data and have yet to work out the details.
The overall plan is awaiting a Food and Drug Administration evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose, the officials said. Officials had already recommended booster jabs for people with weak immune systems.
Health officials said it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against infection wanes over time, and now, with the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly, “we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead,” officials said in a joint statement released by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Officials said the US has an adequate supply of vaccines to provide every US person with initial jabs and boosters, for free at 80,000 locations across the country.
But the decision has raised concerns about worldwide vaccine equity as the vast majority of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.
The World Health Organization called for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country in the world to be vaccinated.
US officials said they would seek to expand efforts to provide vaccines for other countries. The US government has contracted with Pfizer for 500 million doses of its two-dose vaccine to be distributed to other countries.
To date, the US has shipped about 100 million doses to other nations, officials said. New shipments of the Pfizer vaccines have begun in recent days.
Patient data in the US indicate that the vast majority of people dying from extreme cases of COVID-19 – now averaging 500 a day – were unvaccinated, officials said, underscoring the effectiveness of the vaccines and the imperative for people to get the jabs.
“This remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Jeffrey Zients, head of the White House COVID-19 response team.
“We have to protect the American people and we have to continue to do more and more to vaccinate the world. both are critical.”
New data confirmed that vaccine protection against COVID-19 has decreased for the Delta variant of the virus, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said.
A US study of nursing homes shows vaccine effectiveness declined to 53 percent with the Delta variant. An Israeli study showed an increased risk of severe disease among those vaccinated earlier in the pandemic.
Dr Anthony Fauci said the data suggested that higher levels of antibodies are required for people to resist the highly contagious Delta variant, hence the recommendation for boosters.
“You don’t want to find yourself behind and playing catch up,” Fauci said.