LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For people over 65, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a COVID booster shot six months after their initial course of the vaccine. The agency also recommended that people in long-term care facilities receive a booster, as well as other age groups with underlying medical conditions and people whose jobs increase their exposure, like health care workers. But, and this is key, the authorization is only for those who received the Pfizer vaccine. So what about the more than 80 million Americans who've gotten other vaccines?
Here's NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: A panel of scientists and doctors who advise the CDC met this week to discuss the Pfizer booster. But several panelists, including Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot at Vanderbilt University, felt there was a more urgent matter at hand - a booster for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
HELEN KEIPP TALBOT: To me, the biggest policy question out there is the Johnson & Johnson. I worry we're getting distracted by the question of boosters of Pfizer when we have bigger and more important things to do in the pandemic.
DOUCLEFF: Here's the problem. The CDC is recommending a booster for Pfizer because the vaccine's protection against severe disease has declined for people over age 65.
But Dr. Monica Gandhi at the University of California San Francisco says the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has dropped off even further, for people of all ages.
MONICA GANDHI: Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson is down to 71%, in light of the delta variant, currently in the United States.
DOUCLEFF: And to clarified that, 70%, 71%, that's across all age groups, too, not just, like, people over 65.
GANDHI: Correct - so that is a great point. And that really is the data that I think is making a lot of us say, OK, let's get some recommendations from the CDC and what to do with Johnson & Johnson. We need this to happen quickly.
DOUCLEFF: So quickly, in fact, that Gandhi and her colleagues haven't waited for federal health agencies to sign off on boosters for J&J vaccine recipients.
GANDHI: Though we couldn't officially recommend it, we supplied Pfizer mRNA booster shots to anyone who had gotten Johnson & Johnson vaccines over the last two months.
DOUCLEFF: Johnson & Johnson has submitted preliminary data to the Food and Drug Administration showing that a booster shot likely works well. It likely raises protection against severe disease. And as Gandhi points out, there's data from the U.K. showing that mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer, can be safe boosters for other types of vaccines. So, she says, if you got the J&J vaccine and want a booster, go see a doctor.
GANDHI: They will likely recommend, even while we're waiting, a booster shot with either an mRNA vaccine or, if available, they could get a second Johnson & Johnson.
DOUCLEFF: OK, so that's J&J. What about Moderna? Sixty-seven million Americans got that vaccine. And in terms of efficacy, it's holding up the best, even among older people. The CDC reported this week that it gives 97% protection against hospitalization for adults under age 65 and 87% protection for people over 65. Still, Moderna has already submitted data to the FDA seeking authorization for a booster.
The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said Friday that the goal is to give recommendations for both Moderna and J&J in the coming weeks.
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VIVEK MURTHY: And I want to speak directly to those who received Moderna and J&J. Your health matters just as much as other vaccine recipients. And we want to make sure that your protection against COVID is strong and reliable as well.
DOUCLEFF: In fact, Moderna isn't just currently testing one type of booster, it's testing three, including one that could directly help you fight off two coronavirus variants.
Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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