U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced plans to begin offering booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting eight months after an individual's second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines.
"Just remember as a simple rule, eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot," Biden said during remarks at the White House.
"These booster shots are free. You'd be able to get the booster shots at any one of approximately 80,000 vaccination locations nationwide. It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card and you'll get a booster," Biden said.
U.S. health officials said booster shots will also likely be needed for people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Officials expect to see more data on J&J in the next few weeks before they announce a decision.
"Having reviewed the most current data, it is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for COVID-19 boosters is now," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a briefing to reporters on Wednesday.
In the same briefing, Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, pointed to data showing that antibody levels against the coronavirus decline over time and that higher levels of antibody may be required to protect against the delta variant.
"Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19 with safe, effective and long-lasting vaccines, especially in the context of a constantly changing virus and epidemiologic landscape," officials said in a statement. "We will continue to follow the science on a daily basis, and we are prepared to modify this plan should new data emerge that requires it."
Humanitarian organizations criticized the plan.
"The Biden administration's decision to authorize booster shots for all Americans threatens to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots," Sarah Swinehart, senior director of communications, North America, at The ONE Campaign, said in a statement.
"It's outrageous that a healthy, vaccinated individual will be able to get a third shot before the elderly and health workers in low-income countries can get a single dose," she said. "The fact that the U.S. and other wealthy countries are in need of booster shots is an indictment of the world's failure to have a global plan to end this virus."
Biden acknowledged the criticism that the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the fact that many around the world still have not received even a single dose.
"I know there's some world leaders who say America shouldn't get a third shot until other countries get their first shot. I disagree," Biden said.
"We can take care of America and help the world at the same time. In June and July, America administered 50 million shots here in the United States. And we donated 100 million shots to other countries. That means that America has donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country in the world combined."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday told reporters that the government has planned for months to ensure there would be enough supply of vaccines if the Food and Drug Administration recommended a booster shot program. She also stressed that giving additional shots in the United States would not mean choosing between deploying those doses at home or helping to address the many areas of the world where few people have had access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, during the coming months, the U.S. expects to administer around 100 million boosters in the United States and donate more than 200 million doses at the same time. He said the U.S. will also continue to expand efforts to increase the supply of vaccines for other countries, building further on the more than 600 million doses that the U.S. has committed to donate globally.
The World Health Organization recently called for a worldwide moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to allow low-income nations to get more initial vaccination doses.