The Biden Administration is expected to announce Americans should get extra doses of the COVID vaccine as the delta variant continues to cause chaos across the country.
An announcement was expected as soon as this week, with doses beginning to be administered widely once the Food and Drug Administration formally approves vaccines. That action is expected for the Pfizer shot in the coming weeks.
Extra doses were already authorized for people with weakened immune systems and federal health care workers have been mulling booster shots for health care workers, nursing home residents and other older Americans.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, warned of tough days ahead amid surging COVID-19 infections. He pleaded anew for unvaccinated people to get their shots, calling them “sitting ducks” for a delta variant that is ravaging the country and showing little sign of letting up.
“This is going very steeply upward with no signs of having peaked out,” he said.
Here are some things to know:
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE NEED AN EXTRA DOSE?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer powerful protection for otherwise healthy people, but many who take immune-suppressing medications or have diseases that tamp down their immune systems generally get less benefit from the standard two doses. The CDC cited one study suggesting about 40% to 44% of people hospitalized for a so-called breakthrough case — infection after vaccination — are among the immune-compromised.
Those hospitalized patients “did all the right things — they’re just suffering from a lack of good vaccine protection,” said Dr. Camille Kotton of Massachusetts General Hospital, one of CDC’s advisers.
WHO QUALIFIES CURRENTLY FOR AN EXTRA DOSE?
Roughly 7 million American adults are classified as immune-compromised, but the FDA singled out transplant recipients and others with similar levels of immune suppression. The FDA didn’t spell out exactly who falls into those other categories, but in new guidance to doctors issued Friday, the CDC listed several categories of people who could qualify, including people with advanced or untreated HIV infections and those with cancers who are receiving certain chemotherapies.
HOW WELL DOES A THIRD DOSE WORK?
It helps at least some people. Canadian researchers reported 55% of transplant recipients given a third dose two months after standard vaccination had good antibody levels compared to 18% who were given a dummy third shot for comparison. Health experts urged these high-risk patients to continue masking and taking other precautions since there’s no guarantee a third dose will work.
WHAT IF I HAD THE SINGLE-DOSE JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE?
There’s little data on how another dose works in high-risk people who received that vaccine, although it’s likely a small number since fewer than 14 million Americans overall have received the J&J shot. Still, CDC counts at least 90,000 who have gotten another dose on their own.
FDA vaccines chief Dr. Peter Marks said the agency is working to get more information about immune-suppressed J&J patients but that for now, the evidence only backs a recommendation of extra doses for Pfizer and Moderna recipients with fragile immune systems.