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White House says U.S. can roll out COVID boosters next week

CoronavirusSep 17, 2021 04:41PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy delivers remarks during a news conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at the White House in Washington, U.S., July  15, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccine booster shots next week but only if health regulators approve the plan, White House officials said on Friday.

In August, President Joe Biden said the government would provide boosters in the week of Sept. 20 to address waning vaccine immunity and the highly transmissible Delta variant.

"We've been working through the last few weeks, intensely with our partners, our governors, state, and local health officials, federal pharmacy programs, the community health centers to ensure that we are ready for next week," White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing.

While some health officials, other countries and vaccine makers say boosters are needed, many experts disagree, including two top scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who are leaving the agency later this year.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters boosters will be available once the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approve the plan. Critics have said the Biden administration's booster plan is putting pressure on scientists or getting ahead of their evaluations.

"We have always said that this initial plan would be contingent on the FDA and the CDC's independent evaluation. We will follow that evaluation and their recommendations. We will make sure our final plan reflects it," he said.

The plan was not announced in advance to create pressure, he added, but to create transparency and to be better prepared.

Murthy was among eight top U.S. health officials including the FDA and CDC chiefs who have said boosters are necessary.

A panel of independent expert advisers to the FDA is debating whether Americans should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and was set to vote later on Friday.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet next week to discuss boosters.

The United States had an average of 146,000 COVID-19 cases, 11,165 hospitalizations and 1,448 deaths in its most recent seven-day period, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.

The CDC will invest $2.1 billion to protect patients and healthcare workers from COVID-19 and future infectious diseases, she said. The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Biden passed in March to address the pandemic.

So far 89% of active U.S. military troops received at least one vaccine shot, Zients said, up from 76% three weeks ago.

White House says U.S. can roll out COVID boosters next week

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