The Biden administration said Friday it is not changing its definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greatly expanded the range of people eligible for booster doses.
Officials reserved the right to revisit the definition, however, a point that could irk critics who fear that goalposts around vaccines and workplace mandates will move around.
“We have not yet changed the definition of ‘fully vaccinated.’ We will continue to look at this,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 briefing. “We may need to update our definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ in the future, but what I would say is if you’re eligible for a booster, go ahead and get your booster and we will continue to follow [the issue].”
Federal officials late Thursday approved booster options for all three vaccines approved in the U.S. amid concerns that waning immunity from the vaccines will result in more breakthrough infections and, potentially, hospitalizations in the colder months.
Persons older than 65, adults with underlying conditions, and people in high-risk jobs who received an initial series from Pfizer or Moderna may seek a booster from any of the three vaccines if they are at least six months out from their second dose.
Any American adult who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago may seek another dose of any immunization; amid concerns, the 15 million recipients need another amount to match the efficacy demonstrated by the other vaccines.
In September, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and vocal critic of vaccine mandates, said he is worried about how the booster push will interact with potential appointments on people who must choose between getting the shots or keeping their jobs.
“I think it raises questions as you go further down the line about what would even count as being vaccinated,” he said.
Large swaths of the population, including children, aren’t included in recommendations on extra doses of the trinity of vaccines available, which is part of the reason Dr. Walensky cited in not changing the definition.
Also, she said the government remains focused on getting holdouts to take their initial series to plug holes in the nation’s defenses against the virus.
“Around 64 million remain unvaccinated, leaving themselves — and their children, their families, their loved ones and communities — vulnerable,” Dr. Walensky said. “If you have not yet been vaccinated, I encourage you to take the time to get the information you need to make the decision to get vaccinated.”
Also, Friday, Dr. Walensky said the CDC won’t tell people seeking a booster which type to get.
“We will not articulate a preference. My understanding is that most people will have done largely well with the initial vaccine that they got,” Dr. Walensky said. “There may be some people who might prefer another vaccine over the one that they received, and the current CDC recommendations now make that possible.”
Advisers to the CDC discussed the relative merits of switching vaccines during a Thursday meeting. They said J&J recipients could see a more enormous antibody response by switching to a messenger-RNA vaccine from Pfizer or the Moderna booster, which is a half dose — although a second shot of the J&J would bolster protection against disease to 94%, according to trials of the J&J version that uses an inactivated virus, or adenovirus, technology.
Also, young men might consider switching away from the mRNA shots because of concerns around heart-muscle inflammation. Young women might change away from the J&J photo to avoid problems about a rare yet severe blood clotting issue.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “highly suggestive” data from Israel show boosters can gradually decrease transmission of the virus, with the reduced rates of infection meaning people are passing along the virus with less frequency. It does strongly suggest there is an impact on transmissibility, but further studies would have to confirm that,” he said.