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US booster shots start, even as millions remain unprotected

September 24, 2021 GMT
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccinations in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccinations in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
1 of 3
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccinations in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday. Biden praised the decision and aimed to set aside any unease about the vaccination, saying that he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected.

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The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus. But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as health care workers.

An administration official said the White House did not have input in Walensky’s decision nor was given a heads-up. Biden on Friday said “the decision is left to the scientists and the doctors. That’s what happened here.”

The panel had offered the option of a booster for those ages 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one. But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy front-line health care workers who aren’t at risk of severe illness but want to avoid even a mild infection.

The panel voted 9 to 6 to reject that proposal. Walensky decided to disregard the advisory committee’s counsel, issuing a statement saying she had restored the recommendation.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said late Thursday night. “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Experts say getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority, and the panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal. Biden stressed that the administration’s focus remained on getting people to get their first shots and that he intended to keep rolling out “vaccination requirements wherever I can.”

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“The refusal to get vaccinated have cost all of us,” the president said. “It is not hyperbole: it is literally a tragedy. Don’t let it be your tragedy.”

All three of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. are still highly protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, even with the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant. But only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

“We can give boosters to people, but that’s not really the answer to this pandemic,” said Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University. “Hospitals are full because people are not vaccinated. We are declining care to people who deserve care because we are full of unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.”

Thursday’s decision represented a dramatic scaling back of the Biden administration plan announced last month to dispense boosters to nearly everyone to shore up their protection. Late Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration, like the CDC panel, signed off on Pfizer boosters for a much narrower slice of the population than the White House envisioned.

The booster plan marks an important shift in the nation’s vaccination drive. Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

Walensky opened Thursday’s meeting by stressing that vaccinating the unvaccinated remains the top goal “here in America and around the world.”

Walensky acknowledged that the data on who really needs a booster right away “are not perfect.” “Yet collectively they form a picture for us,” she said, “and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic.”

The CDC panel stressed that its recommendations will be changed if new evidence shows more people need a booster.

The CDC advisers expressed concern over the millions of Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still hasn’t considered boosters for those brands and has no data on whether it is safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.

“I just don’t understand how later this afternoon we can say to people 65 and older, ‘You’re at risk for severe illness and death, but only half of you can protect yourselves right now,’” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University.

About 26 million Americans got their last Pfizer dose at least six months ago, about half of whom are 65 or older. It’s not clear how many more would meet the CDC panel’s booster qualifications.

CDC data show the vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness for all ages, but there is a slight drop among the oldest adults. And immunity against milder infection appears to be waning months after people’s initial immunization.

For most people, if you’re not in a group recommended for a booster, “it’s really because we think you’re well-protected,” said Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Public health experts not involved in Thursday’s decision said it is unlikely people seeking third doses at a drugstore or other site will be required to prove they qualify.

Even with the introduction of boosters, someone who has gotten just the first two doses would still be considered fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s Dr. Kathleen Dooling. That is an important question to people in parts of the country where you need to show proof of vaccination to eat in a restaurant or enter other places of business.

Among people who stand to benefit from a booster, there are few risks, the CDC concluded. Serious side effects from the first two Pfizer doses are exceedingly rare, including heart inflammation that sometimes occurs in younger men. Data from Israel, which has given nearly 3 million people — mostly 60 and older — a third Pfizer dose, has uncovered no red flags.

The U.S. has already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

President Joe Biden on Friday urged those now eligible for boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to get the added protection a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the extra doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

Now public health officials must clear up confusion over exactly who should get a booster, and why — as they juggle vaccinating the unvaccinated who still make up the vast majority of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered a booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

And a broad swath of other adults can decide for themselves if they want a booster once they reach that six-month mark: Younger people with underlying health problems — plus people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs, such as health workers, or their living conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters.

Walensky overruled objections from her own advisory panel in adding that last category, but the decision drew praise from health organizations that need their employees to avoid even a mild infection so they can come to work.

“At a time when hospitals across the country are experiencing ongoing surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and severe workforce shortages, all available tools — including booster shots — should be considered to keep frontline health care workers safe and safeguard access to care,” said American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack.

The booster decision comes even as CDC data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. still strongly protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, although immunity against milder infection appears to be waning somewhat months after getting the shots.

“You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in,” Biden said Friday as he praised the decision. He aimed to set aside any unease about another vaccination by saying he would get his own booster soon.

“It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot,” Biden said. “It’s a bear, isn’t it?”

The approval prompted many Americans to immediately seek their own boosters.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, got the booster first thing Friday morning. She qualified as a math and science consultant at rural schools in Wisconsin, and got her last Pfizer dose in March.

“It’s a little scary out there,” she said of her job traveling between school districts in places where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children aren’t vaccinated.

“Because I go from building to building I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” Peck said.

CDC’s Walensky said getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority. But her advisers on Thursday wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, especially if the shots were opened to the wide swath of Americans that Walensky ultimately settled on.

Only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

It’s rare for a CDC director to overrule the panel recommendation; experts said it has only happened once this century.

Still to come: Government decisions on whether to allow booster doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

The U.S. launched a campaign to offer boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans on Friday even as federal health officials stressed the real problem remains getting first shots to the unvaccinated.

“We will not boost our way out of this pandemic,” warned Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — even though she took the rare step of overruling the advice of her own expert panel to make more people eligible for the booster.

The vast majority of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, Walensky noted. And all three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. offer strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death despite the extra-contagious delta variant that caused cases to soar. But immunity against milder infection appears to wane months after initial vaccination.

People anxious for another Pfizer dose lost no time rolling up their sleeves after Walensky ruled late Thursday on who’s eligible: Americans 65 and older and others vulnerable because of underlying health problems or where they work and live — once they’re six months past their last dose.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, qualified because of her job as an education math and science consultant. She was vaccinated back in March but worries about unknowingly picking up and spreading an infection. She travels between rural schools where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children can’t yet be vaccinated.

“I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” said Peck, who got the extra shot first thing Friday morning.

Health officials must clear up confusion over who should get a booster, and why. For now, the booster campaign is what Walensky called “a first step.” It only applies to people originally vaccinated with shots made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Decisions on boosters for Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still to come.

President Joe Biden said if you’re vaccinated, “You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.” He urged those now eligible for an extra shot to “go get the booster,” saying he’d get his own soon — and that everyone should be patient and wait their turn.

Exactly who should get a booster was a contentious decision as CDC advisers spent two days poring over the evidence. Walensky endorsed most of their choices: People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered one once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose. Those 18 and older with health problems can decide for themselves if they want a booster.

But in an extremely unusual move, Walensky overruled her advisers’ objections and decided an additional broad swath of the population also qualifies: People at increased risk of infection — not serious illness — because of their jobs or their living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.

“This was scientific close call,” Walensky said Friday. “In that situation it was my call to make.”

Experts say it was only the second time since 2000 that a CDC director overruled its advisory panel.

Health care workers can’t come to work if they have even a mild infection and hospitals worried about staffing shortages welcomed that decision.

But some of the CDC’s advisers worry that offering boosters so broadly could backfire without better evidence that it really will make a difference beyond the most medically vulnerable.

“My hope is that all of this confusion – or what may feel like confusion – doesn’t send a message to the public that there is any problem with the vaccine,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a University of Washington expert. “I want to make sure people understand these are fantastic vaccines and they work extremely well.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, cautioned against seeking a Pfizer booster before the recommended six-month mark.

“You get much more of a bang out of the shot” by letting the immune system mature that long so it’s prepared to rev up production of virus-fighting antibodies, he explained.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

About 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the total population. Three-quarters of those 12 and older — the ages eligible for vaccination — have had a first dose.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

The U.S. launched a campaign to offer boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans on Friday even as federal health officials stressed the real problem remains getting first shots to the unvaccinated.

“We will not boost our way out of this pandemic,” warned Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — even though she took the rare step of overruling the advice of her own expert panel to make more people eligible for the booster.

The vast majority of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, Walensky noted. And all three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. offer strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death despite the extra-contagious delta variant that caused cases to soar. But immunity against milder infection appears to wane months after initial vaccination.

People anxious for another Pfizer dose lost no time rolling up their sleeves after Walensky ruled late Thursday on who’s eligible: Americans 65 and older and others vulnerable because of underlying health problems or where they work and live — once they’re six months past their last dose.

Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, qualified because of her job as an education math and science consultant. She was vaccinated back in March but worries about unknowingly picking up and spreading an infection. She travels between rural schools where many students and teachers don’t wear masks and the younger children can’t yet be vaccinated.

“I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” said Peck, who got the extra shot first thing Friday morning.

Health officials must clear up confusion over who should get a booster, and why. For now, the booster campaign is what Walensky called “a first step.” It only applies to people originally vaccinated with shots made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Decisions on boosters for Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still to come.

President Joe Biden said if you’re vaccinated, “You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.” He urged those now eligible for an extra shot to “go get the booster,” saying he’d get his own soon — and that everyone should be patient and wait their turn.

Exactly who should get a booster was a contentious decision as CDC advisers spent two days poring over the evidence. Walensky endorsed most of their choices: People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered one once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose. Those 18 and older with health problems can decide for themselves if they want a booster.

But in an extremely unusual move, Walensky overruled her advisers’ objections and decided an additional broad swath of the population also qualifies: People at increased risk of infection — not serious illness — because of their jobs or their living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.

“This was scientific close call,” Walensky said Friday. “In that situation it was my call to make.”

Experts say it was only the second time since 2000 that a CDC director overruled its advisory panel.

Health care workers can’t come to work if they have even a mild infection and hospitals worried about staffing shortages welcomed that decision.

But some of the CDC’s advisers worry that offering boosters so broadly could backfire without better evidence that it really will make a difference beyond the most medically vulnerable.

“My hope is that all of this confusion – or what may feel like confusion – doesn’t send a message to the public that there is any problem with the vaccine,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a University of Washington expert. “I want to make sure people understand these are fantastic vaccines and they work extremely well.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, cautioned against seeking a Pfizer booster before the recommended six-month mark.

“You get much more of a bang out of the shot” by letting the immune system mature that long so it’s prepared to rev up production of virus-fighting antibodies, he explained.

The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

About 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the total population. Three-quarters of those 12 and older — the ages eligible for vaccination — have had a first dose.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.