Late on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a new, emergency-use authorization to supply some Americans with a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The authorization is in direct response to the latest COVID-19 surge due to the delta variant, and it follows similar recommendations already instituted in other parts of the world, including Israel and France.
Who qualifies for the new booster?
The FDA is approving the booster shots for “certain immunocompromised people.” These are people who have either received organ transplants or “are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise.” The FDA says that available data clearly demonstrates that a third dose of the vaccine can help protect these individuals.
To be clear, no one can go to their local pharmacy and get a third shot just yet, as the process for proving your eligibility has not been shared (though it will likely be through a physician).
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said on NPR’s Morning Edition that the reason for a third booster shot is not because these patients’ immunity to COVID-19 is waning. The issue is that with their weakened immune systems they may have not developed sufficient protection from the first two shots. In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a third dose of the Moderna vaccine boosted immunity substantially in organ transplant recipients.
So who actually qualifies? The FDA is still determining the specifics of its new clinical recommendations regarding all the nuances of immunocompromised individuals caused by both disease and medicine.
Drugs that suppress our natural resistance to viruses, known as immunosuppressants, are regularly prescribed to people with organ transplants. But you could also be prescribed an immunosuppressant to treat autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The FDA has not clarified which diseases or treatments it considers on par with an organ transplant.
What if I’m an organ transplant recipient but got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
The new FDA announcement did not address the Johnson & Johnson vaccine whatsoever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a follow-up presentation today that data on the vaccine was insufficient for a recommendation at this time.
What if I’m healthy and just want a third booster shot?
The delta variant has overtaken the U.S., and since it can be carried and transmitted by fully vaccinated individuals, it’s reasonable that you may be wondering whether you could just get a third shot as an otherwise healthy individual. Pfizer has shared data that antibodies capable of targeting the delta variant grow by a factor of five after a third shot is administered to people ages 18 to 55.
For now, the FDA has not offered any such authorization—though Fauci has said the general public will likely require a booster “sooner or later.”