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CDC Director: ‘We May Need to Update our Definition of Fully Vaccinated’ as Booster Eligibility Increases

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021. (Greg Nash/Reuters)

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the U.S. may need to amend its definition of “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 as more Americans become eligible to receive booster shots.

“Right now we don’t have booster eligibility for all people currently,” she said during a White House COVID-19 response team press briefing. “So we have not yet changed the definition of fully vaccinated. We will continue to look at this. We may need to update our definition of fully vaccinated in the future.”

Walensky’s comment comes after the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday. The agency also authorized mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines, allowing Americans to receive a different vaccine for their booster shot than their original vaccine.

The agency had already authorized booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine last month.

The authorization allows any recipient of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to receive a second dose of the J&J, Moderna or Pfizer vaccines at least two months after receiving their first shot. For those who previously received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, only seniors or people at higher risk of COVID-19 because of underlying medical or workplace conditions are currently eligible to receive a booster shot.

While President Biden said in August that booster shots would be widely available to Americans in September, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee later voted 16 to two against recommending boosters for the general population, and 18-0 in favor of recommending boosters for people 65 and older or at high risk of severe COVID-19.

“After considering the totality of the available scientific evidence and the deliberations of our advisory committee of independent, external experts, the FDA amended the EUA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to allow for a booster dose in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others,” acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said last month. “This pandemic is dynamic and evolving, with new data about vaccine safety and effectiveness becoming available every day. As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed.”

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