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Up-to-Date Shots Encouraged Over ‘Fully Vaccinated’: Fauci (1)

Jan. 4, 2022, 11:35 PMUpdated: Jan. 5, 2022, 6:22 PM

Federal health leaders are moving away from an emphasis on what constitutes being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in favor of staying current with shots.

“We’re using the terminology now ‘keeping your vaccinations up to date,’ rather than what ‘fully vaccinated’ means,” White House chief medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci said during a National Institutes of Health lecture Tuesday. “Right now, optimal protection is with a third shot of an mRNA or a second shot of a J&J.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Tuesday for third shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine to be administered within five months of the initial two-shot series, shortening the time frame before a booster by a month. A CDC advisory panel is expected to recommend boosters for teenagers in a meeting Wednesday.

Early studies have indicated a booster of Pfizer Inc.‘s vaccine provides a 25-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies that fight the variant, Moderna Inc.‘s booster produces a 37-fold increase in antibodies, and two doses of Johnson & Johnson‘s vaccine cut hospitalizations in South Africa by 85%.

Fauci and other health leaders as well as President Joe Biden have pressed for months about the importance of getting both vaccinated and boosted. But the CDC’s definition of fully vaccinated has remained two weeks after the primary dose or doses. That decision has prompted questions at multiple White House press conferences as to whether the agency plans to change the definition of fully vaccinated.

“Individuals are considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19 if they’ve received their primary series. That definition is not changing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House press briefing Wednesday.

The federal government has no plans to change the definition of fully vaccinated for travel guidelines, Medicare rules or any other federal requirements, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said during the same briefing.

At the same time, the CDC has updated its guidelines to include language on staying up to date with vaccines, based on the type of vaccine and age group, Walensky said.

“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,” she said.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in September that he thinks three doses Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s mRNA vaccines will likely be the primary series. He made his remarks about new terminology in response to whether the U.S. will start to offer fourth doses the way Israel has.

“We need to find out what the durability of protection of the third shot is before we start thinking about the fourth shot,” he said.

(Updates Jan. 4 story with new information on CDC guidelines and comments from the Jan. 5 White House Covid-19 press briefing.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com