(HealthDay News) — The White House is weighing whether to offer a second COVID-19 booster shot to American adults younger than 50 years. The new push comes in response to the latest, highly contagious omicron variants, which have increased hospitalization rates and raised new concerns about waning immunity in people who were vaccinated 6 or more months ago.
Expanding eligibility requirements for a fourth dose of the vaccine would require regulatory approval. Discussions with both the US Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are slated for the near future, The New York Times reported.
In March, the US Food and Drug Administration approved second booster shots for adults 50 years and older, along with immunocompromised young adults. But Anthony Fauci, MD, White House chief medical adviser, has forcefully argued that all younger adults should be eligible for a second booster. Ashish Jha, MD, the White House coordinator for the pandemic response, is also in favor of the approach, The Times reported.
In an interview on Monday, Fauci said that while the clinical data to support a second booster shot for those younger than 50 years is not there, many in this age group got their last booster shot 6 or more months ago and their immunity is likely dwindling. The final decision is up to the FDA and the CDC, but Fauci said, “I think there should be flexibility and permissiveness in at least allowing” a second booster for younger adults.
But others in the federal government are still waiting on more data to justify the decision, The Times reported. Some argue that the White House is not working hard enough to persuade Americans to accept the original round of COVID-19 vaccines, rather than pushing to boost immunity among groups that have already received at least one dose and are more protected.
Others worry that in the attempt to promote booster shots now, new omicron-specific booster shots will be a tough sell in the fall. On June 28, the FDA recommended that the vaccines be redesigned for the latest fast-spreading omicron variants of the disease, BA.4 and BA.5. As of July 2, the variants accounted for just over 70% of all US infections.
The White House plans to hold a briefing Tuesday on the threats posed by the new variants, which have driven up hospitalization and death rates in Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, and Israel, The Times reported. Still, rates fall far below those seen last winter when the original omicron variant took over the world.