Pfizer Booster Shots May Not Be Available Until October, Officials Say

Pfizer Booster Shots May Not Be Available Until October, Officials Say
  • A third dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine could aid protection against more contagious variants like Delta, according to recent data released by the company.

  • The unpublished study data follows news that its two-dose mRNA vaccine may be less effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 over time, particularly at 6 months after vaccination.

  • Federal health officials have publicly shared that a third shot is unnecessary at this time and that experts are still reviewing data, despite vaccine manufacturers launching approval processes with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials.

  • World Health Organization (WHO) officers have asked countries to cease further discussion on booster shots until the end of September, allowing more nations to focus on first-dose vaccinations for their citizens.

If you've been vaccinated against COVID-19, there's a good chance you received a shot developed by teams at Pfizer or Moderna — a two-series mRNA vaccine that required you to sit for another "booster" dose within a few weeks of your first shot. While health experts were unsure if Americans would need additional shots to keep safe during the pandemic, new evidence amid a surge in COVID-19 cases related to what WHO officials calls the "Delta" variant suggests that you may need an additional shot sooner than you'd have guessed.

Company officials at Pfizer are touting new data that suggests that infection risk after six months is greater when it comes to the highly infectious Delta variant; more recently, it also shared data that suggests a third dose will "strongly" boost protection against Delta and other infectious variants. The company's newer preliminary data illustrates that the amount of antibodies quintuple (or grow by 5x) in adults up to age 55 who receive a third booster dose of the vaccine.

But officials aren't on board with rolling out a booster just yet. Despite meeting with FDA officials to seek emergency approval for booster shots, FDA and CDC officials released a statement to the public before meetings even began between manufacturers and regulators.

"Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time," the joint release reads. "People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta… People who are not vaccinated remain at risk."

The joint statement also adds that an overwhelming majority of new COVID-19 cases and deaths are being attributed to those who have not sought out a vaccine.

Rather than consider additional boosters at this time, its reported that FDA officials are aiming to give full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine within the next 3 to 4 weeks, according to the New York Times. Full approval to the vaccine may encourage unvaccinated Americans to seek out a shot, as currently shots are being distributed under temporary approval known as "emergency use authorization" (EUA) due to the pandemic.

Do I need a third Pfizer shot yet?

Representatives from Pfizer and BioNTech (its development partner) have released statements and data suggesting that vaccinated individuals' immunity against COVID-19 may begin to weaken after 6 months, especially against new variants of the disease. But officials at the FDA and CDC maintain that more evidence is needed before any agency recommends a third dose for more than 79 million Americans who received a Pfizer vaccine this year.

Health officials maintain that it is not clear if a booster shot will be needed to continue to provide full protection against mild COVID-19 symptoms. The rise of disease strains like the highly contagious Delta variant — which has become the most virulent and dominant COVID-19 strain in America after first being recorded in late March, per Yale Medicine — points to signs that all manufacturers may have to create booster doses of their vaccines to ensure immunity through the winter season.

"While protection against severe disease remained high across the full six months, a decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are expected," Pfizer officials have shared in a follow-up release. "Based on the totality of the data they have to date, Pfizer and BioNTech believe that a third dose may be beneficial within 6 to 12 months following the second dose to maintain [the] highest levels of protection."

It's unclear if FDA officers will greenlight Pfizer's third booster dose in granting the manufacturer full clearance rather than just EUA approval, or if boosters will be left off the table for future authorization. When it's time to receive another dose of the Pfizer vaccine, it's likely that your initial provider — whether it be a clinic, pharmacy or your primary care provider — could be responsible for administering another shot.

When will Pfizer have booster doses available?

Officials at Pfizer have previously signaled that it's undergoing the process to get its booster vaccine approved currently, and had sought approval as early as this month. It's expected that the pharmaceutical manufacturer will publish more data and findings on its booster dose before officials determine if Americans need additional shots (and when).

Does that mean you'll be able to sign up for another Pfizer shot in August? Likely not. The World Health Organization has formally requested that federal health agencies in nations around the world table the idea of booster shots until more vaccines are made available to countries where total vaccination rates are low.

"WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated," said WHO Director Tedros Ghebreyesus during a Swiss briefing earlier this month, per CNN. "To make that happen, we need everyone's cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines."

Health experts have previously told Good Housekeeping that distribution for additional doses may be based on priority for risk groups. Meaning, those who are above a certain age or dealing with pre-existing conditions that mark them at high risk for severe COVID-19 illnesses may potentially be first in line for these booster shots whenever they become available.

It's too soon to know when and if Pfizer's latest rollout will occur this way, but definitely something to keep in mind as you plan things like late summer travel, back to school and holiday celebrations in the fall and winter.

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