WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Following months of debate by health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday endorsed COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for millions of Americans at risk of severe infection.
Both the CDC and FDA have now agreed that millions of Americans who got the Pfizer vaccine should begin getting a third dose of the shot.
"This is a significant start to our boosters' program and a critical step forward in our fight against the virus," White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients said during Friday's announcement.
Below are some important facts to know about booster shoots:
1. Who is eligible?
Zients said that about 20 million Americans are now eligible to get a booster shot and can do so beginning now.
However, this is only for people who previously had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Health experts said those who have received the Pfizer vaccine should not seek a booster shot until six months after their second shot.
- Adults age 65 years and older
- Adults 18 years older at risk due to underlying factors or circumstances, which includes obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and others
- Those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised
- Anyone who is at an increased risk for COVID-19 because of their jobs, including teachers, doctors, nurses and grocery workers, "may" seek a booster
The federal government website at vaccines.gov has links to pages that outline who is eligible for a booster shot.
2. Why do I need one?
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Friday that booster shots will extend and enhance protection against COVID-19.
During Friday's announcement, Dr. Anthony Fauci laid out research data that showed booster shots can significantly help against preventing infection.
Fauci cited a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed people 60 years and older who received a booster shot significantly lowered their chance of infection and severe illness 12 days or more after receiving the third shot.
Fauci stressed that people should wait six months after their second shot.
"There is an immunological reason why it's important to wait [six months] because you know if you allow the immune response to mature over a period of a few months, you get much more of a bang out of the shot ... an enhancement of your antibodies," Fauci said.
3. Where can I get one?
Zients said the federal government has been planning for the approval for weeks and is better prepared to rollout boosters than when the COVID-19 vaccine was first approved.
Federal officials said they have secured enough free boosters shots for every American regardless of immigration or health insurance status.
Zients said the shots will be available at about 80,000 locations across the country, including more than 40,000 pharmacies.
Visit the website vaccines.gov for a list of locations where shots are available or call 1-800-232-0233.
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County said their mobile clinics are offering booster shots at all of their scheduled locations.
"We are ready to get booster shots in arms right away," Zients said.
4. What if I got a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
The FDA and CDC said they still need to review data from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson before authorizing a booster shot from those companies.
"I want to speak directly to those who received Moderna and J&J," Murthy said Friday. "Your health matters just as much as other vaccine recipients, and we want to make sure that your protection against COVID is strong and reliable as well. That's why the FDA is working closely with Moderna and J&J to get and process their data as quickly as possible with the goal of making booster recommendations for Moderna and J&J recipients in the coming weeks. This is a high, high priority."
5. Will boosters help stop the pandemic?
While boosters shots will help to protect vaccinated people from contracting COVID-19, health officials say the large issue is that more than 70 million Americans remain unvaccinated.
During Friday's news conference about booster shots, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said their main goal continues to be getting more shots in arms.
"We will not boost our way out of this pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. "Infections among the unvaccinated continue to fuel this pandemic resulting in a rising number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths where people are unvaccinated."