With COVID-19 vaccine protection possibly waning over time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday said Americans should get a booster shot eight months after being fully vaccinated.
A joint statement issued by the nation's top health experts, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, makes it clear that vaccine protection isn't as strong at preventing infection from COVID-19 after eight months.
The plan is to offer booster shots to all Americans starting the week of Sept. 20, though people will only be eligible if it has been at least eight months since they received their second dose.
That will put healthcare workers, nursing home residents and senior citizens first in line for a booster shot. The plan will also aims to deliver booster shots directly to long-term care facilities, which have been hit extremely hard by illness and death during the pandemic.
"Recognizing that many vaccines are associated with a reduction in protection over time, and acknowledging that additional vaccine doses could be needed to provide long lasting protection, we have been analyzing the scientific data closely from the United States and around the world to understand how long this protection will last and how we might maximize this protection," the statement says, noting that COVID-19 vaccines have been "remarkably effective."
HHS notes that the FDA is in the process of developing a plan to provide boost shots this fall, though the plan is subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determining the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
"Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout," the message continues. "For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability."
People who received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine are not yet eligible for a booster shot, but HHS says it more information about J&J recipients should be available "in the next few weeks."
A recent preprint study (meaning it has not been properly reviewed) involving 25,000 Mayo Clinic Health System COVID-19 patients revealed that six months after completing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine series, the vaccine's effectiveness at preventing infection from the delta variant dropped to 42%. Moderna was more protective (76%), according to the study.
The data coincides with an increasing number of breakthrough cases, which are defined as people testing positive for COVID-19 at least two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Through July, 18 the Minnesota Department of Health has tallied 7,171 breakthrough cases statewide, including 584 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.
However, this represents a tiny fraction of the nearly 3 million Minnesotans who were fully vaccinated as of July 18, showing the effectiveness of the available COVID vaccines.