The Biden administration's top health experts said Wednesday that COVID-19 booster shots are necessary for even young and healthy adults, despite conflicting data, and hinted a decision on the matter would arrive by the end of the week.
Although COVID-19 breakthrough cases are becoming more common as vaccine efficacy wanes over time, severe disease, hospitalization and death are rare for vaccinated and otherwise healthy adults. But the nation's leading voices on public health said they want to offer already vaccinated Americans as much protection as possible.
"I don't know of any other vaccine that we only worry about keeping people out of the hospital. I think an important thing is to prevent people from getting symptomatic disease," White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci said during a press conference with other officials.
The Biden administration already authorized COVID-19 booster shots for older adults and people at high risk because of their jobs or health, as well as all Americans who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
FDA vaccine advisers twice voted against opening up booster shots to young and healthy adults, arguing it's not necessary to offer this group extra protection against a disease that will likely become endemic in the population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet Friday afternoon, and the administration has confirmed that it will not consult Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers when deciding whether to open boosters to everyone.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters that the CDC's independent vaccine advisers would discuss boosters after the FDA decides on Pfizer's application for emergency authorization of its COVID-19 booster.
Fauci pointed to a study from the United Kingdom that showed people who received the Pfizer vaccine got a major boost in vaccine efficacy after receiving an additional shot, up from 62.5 percent to 94 percent.
"The rate of disease is markedly lower for those who receive a booster shot, indicating that our boosters are working," Walensky said.
She added that the CDC and FDA are not considering changing the definition of fully vaccinated if COVID-19 booster shots are authorized for all adults.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are still relatively high and 1,000 Americans are dying of the disease every day, according to the CDC's weekly case averages. Additionally, 5,300 Americans are being hospitalized with COVID-19 every day.
Cases nationwide are rising, with the CDC recording more than 83,600 cases on average daily.
"We better be careful to not make too sharp a distinction between protection against infection that is symptomatic versus protection against hospitalization and deaths," Fauci said.
COVID-19 spread, hospitalization and deaths are much higher in the unvaccinated population than among vaccinated individuals beginning to experience some waning vaccine efficacy. Fauci highlighted Texas Department of Health Services data showing that an unvaccinated person in their 40s is up to 55 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than a vaccinated person. So far, 70.6 percent of the U.S. population ages 18 and up and 68.9 percent of those 12 and up are fully vaccinated.