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The U.S. Will Offer COVID-19 Booster Shots Beginning In September


Millions of Americans have held back from a first COVID shot, and soon some will get their third. U.S. health authorities plan booster shots for fully vaccinated adults starting the week of September 20. NPR's Allison Aubrey begins our coverage. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So now we get to repeat some questions from when the vaccines first appeared late last year, starting with this question. Who goes first?

AUBREY: Well, first of all, this is all dependent on a review by the FDA and a panel of CDC advisers. But the plan, as you say, is that all adults who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be eligible for a booster dose after about eight months - eight months after they received their first shot. And since health care workers, people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and older people were among the first to get vaccinated, they will be first up for boosters, too. It's anticipated the people who got the J&J shot will get boosters as well, but that is pending a review of more data. And separately, the administration has announced a plan to require nursing homes to mandate vaccines for nursing home staff or risk losing Medicare or Medicaid funding.

INSKEEP: Where do people get the booster shots?

AUBREY: There's going to be a lot of options. Some people will go back to the pharmacy where they got their initial doses. Some doctors' offices and clinics plan to offer the shots. Large health care systems tell me they've been planning for the possibility of boosters for months. Here's Michelle Medina of the Cleveland Clinic.

MICHELLE MEDINA: Cleveland Clinic is planning to give out booster shots in our mass vaccination site that just do COVID vaccine all day. But really, when you walk into a primary care office, if you happen to be in one of our ambulatory pharmacies, we have some community sites, you're able to actually get the vaccine in all of these places.

AUBREY: And no matter where you are around the country, administration officials say the booster shots will be free.

INSKEEP: Allison, in a moment, we're going to talk to the director of the National Institutes of Health to get a sense of why the government is making this change now, but give us the top line here. What evidence persuaded the health authorities that this is the time to do this?

AUBREY: Sure. CDC Director Walensky pointed to several new lines of evidence that show protection begins to decrease over time among vaccinated people. For instance, new data from New York show that vaccine effectiveness against new infections declined from 92% in May down to about 80% in July, just as delta was surging. And Dr. Walensky pointed to a study from the Mayo Clinic that found between January and July, there was a fairly pronounced reduction in effectiveness against infections.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Even though our vaccines are currently working well to prevent hospitalizations, we are seeing concerning evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness over time and against the delta variant.

AUBREY: She says it's important to stay ahead of the virus and not wait until there is a lot of breakthrough infections leading to hospitalizations. So she says the plan is to start offering boosters as soon as September 20.

INSKEEP: Who's pushing back on this?

AUBREY: You know, there is criticism that given so many people in countries around the globe remain unvaccinated, that this just isn't fair that Americans are now going to be getting another dose. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy addressed this concern at the White House yesterday.


VIVEK MURTHY: I do not accept the idea that we have to choose between America and the world. We clearly see our responsibility to both, and we believe we have to work on both fronts, as we have been.

AUBREY: Administration officials say the U.S. shipped more than 100 million doses of COVID vaccines to other countries just during June and July and say they'll continue to support efforts to boost manufacturing and distribution around the globe, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey, always a pleasure hearing from you. Thanks so much.

AUBREY: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.