Officials in the United States have authorised COVID-19 booster jabs for some people who have been vaccinated but have weakened immune systems as data comes in from US and international studies and the Delta variant spreads rapidly among the unvaccinated.
Dr Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said in a statement on Thursday that the agency “is especially cognisant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease.”
“After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said “emerging data show that certain people who are immunocompromised, such as people who have had an organ transplant and some cancer patients may not have had an adequate immune response to just two doses of the COVID vaccine.”
The authorisation comes as the the world is faces a global outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus which is more than two times as infectious as the original COVID-19 virus and which has been detected now in 117 countries.
In the US, the numbers are alarming in Florida, Texas and Arkansas with new outbreaks being identified in the states of Tennessee, Illinois, and Missouri. Federal emergency response teams have deployed to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arizona.
More than 90 percent of US counties are seeing “substantial or high transmission” of the virus, according CDC data.
The CDC reported 132,384 new cases of COVID-19 on August 11 and a seven-day average of 113,000 cases per day, up 24 percent from the prior seven-day average.
Hospital admissions are about 9,700 per day, an increase of about 31 percent from a week earlier. Most of those requiring hospital care – 97 percent – have not been vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster jabs until more of the world population gets initial vaccinations. The US is beginning to ship the first batches of 500 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine promised to other countries in the coming days, officials said. Germany will start offering booster jabs in September.
On Thursday, prior to the FDA announcement, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients, said the US is prepared to offer the booster shots.
“We have the supply and people will be able to get a booster in a fast and efficient way, if and when that science dictates,” he said.
He added that Florida and Texas, both led by Republican governors and where acceptance of the vaccine has been low, at present account for 40 percent of new COVID-19 hospitalisations in the US.
“There are a lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure – that is children wearing masks in school so they can be safe – into a political dispute,” President Joe Biden said in remarks at the White House on Thursday.
“This isn’t about politics. This is about keeping our children safe,” Biden said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has mocked Biden for the White House response to the virus, is attempting to prevent Florida school districts from imposing mask mandates.
“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state,” DeSantis said at a media briefing last week, adding “I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID” from Biden.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, is taking a number of steps to require vaccines for millions of US military service personnel and federal government workers.
Beginning in September, the US Department of Defense will be requiring COVID-19 vaccines for about 1.7 million active duty, reserve and guard troops. Biden has ordered all four million federal employees to get the jab.
Separately, state and local governments, public school systems, colleges and universities and private employers across the US are beginning to require personnel be vaccinated.
More than 167 million people, or about 61 percent of adults in the US have been fully vaccinated. About 3.3 million people in the US received a vaccine shot in the last week and the US is averaging about 500,000 jabs a day.