Extended eligibility increases U.S. COVID-19 booster shots ahead of holidays

November 25 (Reuters) – Millions of Americans received COVID-19 booster shots at an near-record pace after the Biden administration expanded eligibility last week, but health officials worried about climbing infections ahead of the winter break urged more to get the extra protection.

About 37.5 million people had received a booster shot in the United States as of Tuesday, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I think it’s a good start,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a leading expert in infectious diseases from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who added that he believed boosters are more important for personal protection than for limiting the spread of the virus.

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“I’m hoping for a lot better. I want to see it all double very, very fast,” he said of the booster recording.

U.S. regulators extended the right to vaccine booster shots to all adults, giving millions of more Americans the opportunity for additional protection amid a recent rise in infections, including among the fully vaccinated. Read more

Previously, persons 65 years of age and older and persons at high risk of infection due to underlying health or employment conditions were eligible for the additional shots.

Just over six million people received an extra dose of one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines last week, CDC data show, the highest weekly total since boosters were first approved, and an increase of over 15% from the previous week.

More than 130 million fully vaccinated adults in the United States are now eligible for the shots, at least six months after the second dose of Pfizer (PFE.N)/ BioNTech or Modern (MRNA.O) vaccines or two months after receipt of Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) en-dose vaccine.

More than a quarter of those now eligible have received boosters. Some experts felt that claims for eligibility for previous booster shots were too complicated and may have deterred people from getting them, or that previous evidence for the extra shots was lacking.

Vial labeled “Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine” is shown in this illustration taken May 2, 2021. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic

“There’s a much better rationale for boosters now than when the White House first promoted the idea (in August). They created some mixed messages,” said Dr. William Moss, Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We’re in a better place now.”

WINNING IMMUNITY

Government officials, including CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and top expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has for weeks urged more Americans to opt for additional protection as they prepare to travel and gather with friends and family for this week’s American Thanksgiving holiday.

After about two months of declining infections, the United States has reported daily increases in the last two weeks, driven by the more easily transmitted Delta variant of the virus and people spending more time indoors due to colder weather.

“We want so many people who were originally vaccinated with the first cure boosted,” said Fauci Tuesday in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.

He said the “overwhelming majority” of Americans who have been fully vaccinated should now receive a COVID-19 booster shot based on data showing that they provide “substantial” protection beyond what is seen from the original grafting. Read more

Regulators supported the additional doses out of concern over data showing that immunity generated by the first shots decreases over time. Studies have shown that booster doses generate higher neutralizing antibody levels on average than the initial inoculations, and data from Pfizer suggest that they can significantly reduce infections.

Some researchers believe that boosters are unnecessary for many healthy adults, arguing that vaccination of the unvaccinated should be a priority.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised countries not to make boosters available until more people around the world have received their primary doses.

But on Tuesday, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, called on Europeans to get booster doses if they are offered in light of rising cases. The WHO said there could be an additional 700,000 deaths by March if no action is taken. Read more

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Reporting by Michael Erman in New Jersey and Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington; Editing Bill Berkrot

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