CDC director says US planning “simply in case”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Joe Biden’s chief executive officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listens as Biden announces candidates and officers for his health and coronavirus response teams during a press conference at his interim headquarters Wilmington, Delaware, December 8, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The US government is planning the potential need for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots “just in case,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNBC.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky did not say what these plans were. However, should Americans need booster vaccinations, the US would likely have to reach agreements with drug makers to provide additional doses and make plans to distribute vaccines.

Walensky told CNBC that US health officials “think ahead” if vaccine-induced immunity to the coronavirus wanes. Officials still don’t know if this will happen or if refresher shots are needed, “but we plan on just in case,” she said.

“Now when you have two doses of the mRNA vaccines you are protected,” Walensky said in comments aired Tuesday during the CNBC Healthy Returns Summit.

“We’re talking about forward thinking,” she said in an interview with CNBC’s Meg Tirrell. “What if in a year or 18 months your immunity wears off? That really is our job, hoping for the best and planning what might happen if we need more boosters in the future as we get flu vaccine boosters each Year.”

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According to Walensky, scientists are currently studying the immunity of a small population of people who were vaccinated months ago. However, she doesn’t expect scientists to do mass tests to find decreased immunity to the virus.

Drug makers and some scientists are now saying that people will likely need a booster shot of Covid-19 vaccines and possibly additional shots each year, just like they did with seasonal flu.

Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines currently require two doses three to four weeks apart, while the Johnson & Johnson shot only requires one shot. All three vaccines have been shown to be highly effective against Covid, although company executives now expect the strong protection to wear off over time.

All three companies have announced that they will be developing booster shots or versions of their next-generation vaccines that will strengthen protection against the original strain of the virus as well as some of the new variants.

Moderna announced last week that a third dose of its vaccine was generating a promising immune response against the original virus, as well as variants B.1.351 and P.1, first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Last month, David Kessler, chief science officer of the Biden government at Covid, said Americans should expect to receive booster vaccinations to protect against coronavirus variants. He told US lawmakers that currently approved vaccines offer high levels of protection, but that new variants may “question” the effectiveness of the shots.

Covid-19 booster shots are free to the public if they are needed to combat the ongoing pandemic, Kessler told lawmakers on Tuesday. “We have the means to buy the next round and make sure there are boosters that are as free as the last round,” Kessler said on the Capitol Hill testimonial.

Walensky told CNBC scientists they still don’t know if the coronavirus is seasonal. New infections slow down in the warm summer months and accelerate in winter.

Some scientists predict that there will be repeated outbreaks in the US as the US enters the colder months.

“We have coronaviruses other than seasonal viruses and yet this coronavirus has not been shown to be seasonal,” she said, adding that the US saw spikes in some cases last summer.

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