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US to start offering Pfizer, Moderna booster shots for COVID-19 in September

Health officials with the Biden administration say another shot is needed to maximize protection.

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Americans can get a booster shot eight months after their second dose.

Natalie Weinstein/CNET

Starting the week of Sept. 20, Americans who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 will be eligible to get a booster shot eight months after their second dose, according to a statement Wednesday from public health and medical experts at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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The statement, which included experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, cited evidence that vaccine effectiveness could lessen over time.

"Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout," officials said in the joint statement. "We conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability."

The plan is subject to FDA approval and CDC recommendation on dosage.

"Thanks to the aggressive actions we have taken to establish our vaccination program, it will be just as easy and convenient to get a booster shot as it is to get a first shot today," Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a briefing on Wednesday, adding that "boosters will be free regardless of immigration or health insurance status."

Biden added during another briefing Wednesday: "My administration has been planning for this possibility and this scenario for months. We purchased enough vaccine and vaccine supplies so that when your eight-month mark comes up, you'll be ready to get your vaccination free, that booster shot free. We have it available. It will make you safer and for longer, and it will help us end the pandemic faster."

The news comes as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread around the US. Even though breakthrough coronavirus cases caused by the delta variant amount to less than 1% of the total, a CDC study showed that vaccinated people can both get it and spread it, raising concerns over how to further control the virus. 

The FDA and CDC last week signed off on an extra shot of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for some immunocompromised people, including solid organ transplant recipients and people receiving treatment for cancers of the blood. 

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Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine aren't eligible for a booster shot just yet. Health officials said they anticipate a booster will be needed but are waiting on more data, expected in the next few weeks, to create a plan for J&J booster shots. 

According to CDC data, about 168.9 million people in the US are fully vaccinated, or 50.9% of the population.

"Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19 with safe, effective, and long-lasting vaccines especially in the context of a constantly changing virus and epidemiologic landscape," said health officials in the joint statement.