The number of people in the US looking to boost their Covid-19 vaccinations has surpassed the tally of those looking to begin them as booster doses from more drug makers may soon be available.
There are 1.3 times as many boosters administered each day compared with first shots, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
And on Thursday, vaccine advisers to the CDC voted to recommend booster doses of both Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, a day after the US Food and Drug Administration gave boosters of the two vaccines emergency use authorization. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed their recommendations later Thursday, opening the way for millions more Americans to get their booster shots.
The FDA had authorized a “mix and match” approach – saying people could get any vaccine as a booster, regardless of which vaccine they got for the initial immunization. Walensky also endorsed that approach, saying eligible Americans could choose whichever vaccine they wished as a booster.
Until this week, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use as a booster for members of certain high-risk groups who received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago.
A booster dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was found to be highly effective – 95.6% – in a Phase 3 trial, the companies announced Thursday. “Efficacy was consistent irrespective of age, sex, race, ethnicity or comorbid conditions,” they noted.
The FDA, pending more safety data, could also soon lower the age range on its emergency use authorizations for booster shots, officials told reporters Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that if we deploy the boosters in all of the age ranges that we truly are making a benefit outweigh any risk,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of that agency’s vaccine arm, the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Evidence suggests that immunity from full vaccination can wane, driving the push to authorize booster doses, acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said Wednesday.
“The currently available data suggest waning immunity in some populations of fully vaccinated people,” Woodcock told reporters during a telephone briefing. “And the availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against Covid-19 disease.”
Four states have vaccinated less than 45% of residents
Health experts continue to stress vaccination as the key to controlling the spread of Covid-19, and many are still encouraging more Americans to get their first doses.
Roughly 57.2% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to data published Thursday by the CDC, with the current pace of new vaccinations roughly the same as last week.
Thirty-five states have fully vaccinated more than half of their population – but four states have vaccinated less than 45% of their residents: Alabama, Idaho, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Over the summer, when the Delta variant was driving a dangerous surge of new infections and hospitalizations across the country, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called out unvaccinated residents for the rise in cases in the state, saying in July, “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks … It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
Health officials in the US have warned that even as many states now see their Covid-19 numbers trend back down, vaccinations will be key in helping prevent new infections, hospitalizations and deaths from ticking back up.
Vaccinating younger kids will play a ‘major role’ in controlling the pandemic
Younger children are still not eligible for even their first doses, but their protection will be key to bringing the pandemic under control, experts have said.
Currently, only adolescents as young as 12 are eligible for vaccines, but data has been submitted to the FDA for doses for children 5 to 11.
About 28 million children 5 to 11 could soon become eligible to get vaccinated if the FDA authorizes shots for this age group and if the CDC recommends it.
The White House on Wednesday unveiled its plans to roll out vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, pending FDA authorization.
Vaccine advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet next week to consider Pfizer’s request to authorize its vaccine for ages 5 to 11. It would be the first Covid-19 vaccine for younger kids.
“We know millions of parents have been waiting for Covid-19 vaccine for kids in this age group. And should the FDA and (CDC) authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms,” White House Covid-19 response director Jeff Zients told reporters at a White House Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy talked with CNN on Thursday morning about children and the disease.
“If you look at the toll on our children, it is quite signficant,” Murthy said, noting hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations among kids and the countless interruptions of schools and activities.
Getting most children vaccinated will “play a major role” in slowing the spread, Fauci said Wednesday.
“In the era of Delta, children get infected as readily as adults do. And they transmit the infection as readily as adults do. We may not appreciate that, because about 50% of the infections in children are asymptomatic,” Fauci told a White House briefing.
“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” said Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
Study details toll on minorities
Racial and ethnic minority groups in the US were more likely than non-Hispanic White people to experience severe Covid-19 infections resulting in hospitalization, admission to intensive care units, and in-hospital death, according to a study published Thursday in JAMA Network Open.
In the first year of the pandemic, American Indian or Alaska Native people were overall the most likely to experience these severe outcomes. They were 3.7 times more likely than non-Hispanic White people to be hospitalized with Covid-19, 6.5 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU and more than seven times more likely to die in the hospital.
Hispanic people were about three times more likely than White people to be hospitalized and about four times more likely to be admitted to an ICU or die.
Overall, Black people were about three times more likely to experience any of those severe outcome, and Asian or Pacific Islanders were about twice as likely to be admitted to an ICU or die and slightly more likely than White people to be hospitalized with Covid-19.
Disparities have improved since the first year of the pandemic, but CDC data through early September 2021 shows that American Indian people are still 3.5 times more likely than White people to be hospitalized with Covid-19, and Black and Hispanic people are 2.8 times more likely.
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Maggie Fox, John Bonifield, Jacqueline Howard, Naomi Thomas and Maya Brown contributed to this report.