Expanded eligibility boosts US COVID-19 booster shots ahead of holidays

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Millions of Americans got COVID-19 booster shots at a near record pace after the Biden administration expanded eligibility last week, but health officials concerned about climbing infections ahead of the winter holiday season urged more to get the additional protection.

About 37.5 million people had received a booster shot in the United States as of Tuesday (Nov 23), according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"I think it is a good start," said Dr William Schaffner, a leading infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who added that he believed boosters are more important for personal protection than for curtailing spread of the virus.

"I am hoping for much better. I would like to see all of that doubled very, very quickly," he said of booster uptake.

US regulators expanded eligibility for vaccine booster shots to all adults, allowing millions more Americans to get additional protection amid a recent rise in infections, including among the fully vaccinated.

Previously, people aged 65 and older and those at high risk of infection due to underlying health or employment conditions were eligible for the extra shots.

Just over 6 million people got an additional dose of one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines last week, CDC data shows - the highest weekly total since boosters were first authorised, and an increase of more than 15 per cent from the previous week.

More than 130 million fully vaccinated adults in the United States are now eligible for the shots, at least six months after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two months after receiving Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine.

More than a quarter of those now eligible have received boosters. Some experts felt previous booster shot eligibility requirements were too complicated and may have discouraged people from getting them, or that previous evidence for the extra shots was lacking.

"There is much better justification for boosters now than when the White House first promoted the idea (in August). They did create some mixed messages," said Dr William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We are in a better place now."

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