Coronavirus: CDC committee recommends additional vaccine dose for immunocompromised people

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel on Friday voted to recommend an additional dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for moderately or severely immunocompromised people as the delta variant continues to drive up infection rates nationwide.

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The unanimous recommendation from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices comes one day after the Food and Drug Administration updated emergency use authorizations issued for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to authorize an additional vaccine dose for certain immunocompromised individuals, including transplant recipients and some cancer patients. The FDA’s decision allows for immunocompromised people aged 12 and older who have gotten the Pfizer vaccine, and people aged 18 and older who got the Moderna vaccine, to get an additional vaccine dose.

Officials said Friday that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not included in the update “due to insufficient data.”

>> Related: Coronavirus: FDA authorizes 3rd vaccine dose for people with weak immune systems

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Thursday that people will likely need COVID-19 vaccine booster shots “for durability of protection.” However, he emphasized that health officials are still evaluating the available data.

“Right at this moment – apart from the immunocompromised… we do not believe that others, elderly or nonelderly, who are not immunocompromised need (an additional vaccine dose) right at this moment,” he said.

Immunocompromised people are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 and to transmit the virus to other people, according to officials. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, said Friday that the immunocompromised population in the U.S. is estimated to be “very small” – less than 3% of American adults.

>> Related: Coronavirus: What does it mean to be immunocompromised?

“An additional dose could help increase protections for these individuals, which is especially important as the delta variant spreads,” she said. “This action is about ensuring our most vulnerable, who may need an additional dose to enhance their biological responses to the vaccines, are better protected against COVID-19.”

Since July 1, health officials have seen a 700% increase in the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases nationwide. Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Team, noted that hospitalizations and deaths have also risen across the U.S. since early July.

“Emerging experimental and observational data in adults suggest that an additional mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in immunocompromised people enhances antibody response and increases the proportion who respond to (the) COVID-19 vaccine,” she said at Friday’s ACIP meeting. “With respect to potential harms, in small studies of an additional dose of mRNA vaccine, no serious adverse events were observed.”

>> Related: Coronavirus: CDC recommends pregnant people get vaccinated against COVID-19

She added that people who are immunocompromised “should continue to wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart from others they don’t live with and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.”

Just over 50% of all Americans and 61% of all American adults have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest data available from the CDC.

Since the start of the pandemic, 36.3 million COVID-19 cases have been identified nationwide, resulting in over 619,000 deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University. In the last 28 days, as the delta variant fueled case spikes around the globe, officials in the U.S. have recorded 2.3 million new cases and nearly 10,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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