The Biden administration is reportedly planning to act soon to expand COVID-19 booster shot authorization to all U.S. adults, even as early as this week.
According to reports from Axios and the Wall Street Journal, the administration is reviewing data on booster doses in preparation for a push to make them available to all vaccinated adults. In the face of waning vaccine efficacy, health experts are strongly recommending that older people and anyone with underlying health conditions get an additional vaccine dose to protect against serious illness or death.
"As every month goes by, the immunity wanes more and more. So as time goes by, you're going to see more vaccinated people" come down with breakthrough infections, said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president, in an interview with Axios.
While noting that most breakthrough COVID-19 infections aren't severe, Fauci advised that elderly people are at higher risk because they're "more likely to have waning of protection over time."
Fauci has previously advocated for booster shots In public statements and in reported private conversations within the administration. However, other officials with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have expressed reservations about expanding access to boosters for all adults, arguing instead that they should be reserved for the most vulnerable.
For instance, Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA's advisory committee on vaccines, has expressed concerns over people under 30 taking booster shots.
""I worry about this broad use [of boosters] now," he said in October. "Certainly, I don't agree with [booster doses] down to 18 years of age at all. Maybe 30 [years], I'd feel a little better, because the 18-year-old is at higher risk of myocarditis."
Other experts share this skepticism.
Nevertheless, while the Biden administration has yet to act, several state and local governments have already made booster shots widely available for those who want them. California, Colorado, Arkansas, and New Mexico are offering boosters to all vaccinated adults once six months have passed since their second shot, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"We want you to get the booster because the data indicates that the effectiveness of the vaccine deteriorates over time," said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R).
A study published in the journal Science earlier this month found that the effectiveness of all three COVID-19 vaccines among 780,225 fully vaccinated veterans dropped from 87.9% in February to 48.1% in October. The study looked at adults of all ages, but nearly half were over 65 years old and about one-third were between 50 and 64.
The FDA in September authorized COVID-19 booster shots with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adults 65 and older and individuals 18 through 64 years of age who have a high risk of developing severe COVID-19. Earlier this month, Pfizer and BioNTech SE asked the FDA to authorize a booster shot of their vaccine for all people age 18 and older.
According to the CDC, only 36% of Americans 65 and older have received a COVID-19 booster shot.
"I believe it's extremely important for people to get boosters, and I am hoping very soon we will see a situation where there won't be any confusion about who should and should not get boosters," Fauci told Axios.
"In my opinion boosters are ultimately going to become a part of the standard regimen and not just a bonus," he added.