The agency said that three doses of Pfizer’s or
Moderna’s vaccines should be considered “up-to-date” inoculations, and that
Johnson & Johnson recipients should receive a second dose, preferably of
Moderna or Pfizer, to also be considered up to date.
The move indicated a shift in how federal health
officials think Americans should talk about vaccination schedules. Later on
Wednesday, the CDC expanded its recommendation for booster shots to include all
Americans 12 and older.
“Consistent with how public health has historically
viewed or even talked about how we recommend vaccines, we are now recommending
that individuals stay up to date with additional doses that they are eligible
for,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a White House news
The CDC did not change the definition of what
qualifies as full vaccination — a subject of intense interest to corporations,
schools, state health departments and professional sports leagues, which have
been reconsidering what it means to be fully vaccinated.
“The technical definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ — two
doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the J&J vaccine — has not changed,”
Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson, said in a statement. “Individuals are
considered fully vaccinated once they have received their primary series.”
She added that the agency recommend that people “stay
‘up to date’ by receiving any additional doses they are eligible for, according
to CDC’s recommendations, to ensure they have optimal protection.”
Federal officials have typically referred to people as
fully vaccinated two weeks after a first dose of Johnson & Johnson or a
second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. While studies have showed that
protection against infection has waned in fully vaccinated people and can be
strengthened by a booster, two doses still offer strong protection against
severe COVID-19 — the true goal of vaccination, some vaccine experts have
It is still unclear what practical effect or influence
the change will have on institutions. Many schools, businesses and governments
have relied on the CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” to establish
mandates, requiring people to complete a two- or one-dose series in order to go
to school, eat at a restaurant or stay employed.
The move Wednesday, Nordlund said, was intended to
make COVID-19 vaccines “align with standard language CDC uses about other
vaccinations.” It also accounted for differences in eligibility for booster
shots, since younger adolescents and children are not yet recommended by the
CDC for booster doses. Some people are also still not five months out from
receiving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, six months from a second dose of
Moderna or two months from a first dose of Johnson & Johnson, the authorised
intervals for boosters.
Top federal health officials, including Dr Anthony
Fauci, had pushed the administration to change in any way it could how it
discussed vaccine schedules, arguing that the Pfizer and Moderna shots in
particular should be considered three-dose vaccines. But some officials wanted
to avoid altering what is formally considered a full vaccination schedule.
That change could have carried significant legal
implications, potentially intensifying challenges to vaccination requirements,
as the Biden administration’s attempt to mandate that large employers require
employees to be vaccinated is already bogged down in the courts.
“If you think about the different requirements,”
Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said at the
Wednesday news briefing, “that has not changed, and we do not have any plans to
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