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Biden health officials discussing expanding COVID booster eligiblity

by Atlanta Business Journal

Biden administration health officials on Tuesday said they are discussing authorizing a second COVID-19 booster shot for all adults, but downplayed any imminent recommendations.

“Those conversations have been going on for a while,”  White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha said Tuesday in a press briefing. However, Jha said the ultimate decision rests with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I know that the FDA is considering this, looking at it. And I know CDC scientists are thinking about this and looking at the data as well. The decision is purely up to them,” Jha said.  

The Washington Post first reported on Monday that the administration is working on a plan to expand booster eligibility to all adults. 

The White House has been working hard to promote second booster shots to Americans over the age of 50, which have been authorized since late March. People age 12 and older who are immunocompromised are also eligible. 

But while about 67 percent of all Americans have been fully vaccinated against the virus, only 34 percent of eligible Americans have received a first booster dose, according to federal data. In addition, health officials are working on a fall booster campaign that will target specific variants of omicron, as evidence shows immunity from the first booster series is waning.

“The reason to get a booster now is to prevent infection now. There’s a lot of infections now and increasing number of hospitalizations now. Certainly, those are hospitalizations, infections, severe disease that we want to prevent right now,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “And, you know, potentially more infections to come before that fall booster is available, which is why we really want to make sure people have as much protection as they can right now.”

People who got a second booster now with the existing vaccine would still be eligible to receive omicron-specific boosters that are expected to come out in the fall, officials said, and stressed people eligible for a booster should get one.

“Getting vaccinated now will protect you now. [It] does not at all preclude … you’re also doing it in the fall. So if the risk is now, address the current risk,” White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci said. 

The White House is looking to stem a wave of infections from the BA.5 omicron subavariant, which appears more infectious and able to evade immunity than others. The BA.5 subvariant now accounts for an estimated 65 percent of cases, CDC said.

The country is averaging more than 100,000 new cases per day, though that number is likely an undercount because at-home tests are not being reported. Hospital admissions are averaging about 5,100 people per day over the past week, which is double what the rate was in May according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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