CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday urged all U.S. adults to get a Covid-19 booster shot in light of the emerging Omicron variant, strengthening the agency’s recommendation 10 days after first opening up the doses to people over 18.
Early information from South African scientists suggests the new variant is highly transmissible, though the severity of disease and any potential reduction in vaccine efficacy are still being studied.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against Covid-19,” Walensky said in a statement.
An FDA spokesperson declined to comment on the new CDC recommendation.
The agency expanded its emergency use authorizations for U.S. Covid-19 vaccines on Nov. 19 to allow boosters for all adults, but advisers to FDA and CDC opted to say young, healthy adults "may" get a booster in recognition of scant evidence of the need in that population.
Approximately 47 million adults still have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 — a population Walensky urged to get a shot “as soon as possible.” She also pressed teens and children who haven’t yet gotten a shot to get one.
“Strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness,” Walensky said.
Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and former Covid-19 adviser to the Biden transition who previously questioned the necessity for booster shots in all adults, told POLITICO the strengthened CDC recommendation is warranted.
“While we learn more about Omicron and try to figure out whether it can evade our current vaccines, giving boosters will buy us some time and provide us some extra protection until we figure out if we need to develop second generation vaccines,” Gounder said.
Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and member of FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, signed onto an op-ed Monday morning advocating a renewed push to reach the unvaccinated, both domestically and abroad, rather than pushing boosters for all.
“To the contrary, the possible need for a booster shot targeting a potentially vaccine-resistant variant is a reason to hold off on a booster targeting the original variant,” he wrote with two former FDA officials — Marion Gruber and Philip Krause — who left the agency this fall in part over frustration with the Biden administration’s booster plan, which they thought was premature.
Offit told POLITICO Monday evening his position still stands "unless the CDC has data that we haven’t heard about yet."
Walensky also urged Americans who are sick to seek out a Covid-19 test to ensure the U.S. rapidly identifies Omicron cases. Covid is now circulating among cold and flu viruses in the Northern Hemisphere, and several symptoms of all three illnesses overlap, making it critical to detect the novel coronavirus before a sick person resumes daily activities in public.