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COVID Vaccine Booster Shots: HHS Secretary Says 'Stay Tuned'

LAWRENCE (CBS) -- Sources tell CBS News booster shots will be recommended for the majority of Americans eight months after a second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. And in Lawrence on Tuesday, one of the Biden Administration's top health officials said to "stay tuned" for more information about a likely third shot.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was in Massachusetts to discuss the importance of community health centers and the COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked whether most Americans will soon be urged to get a third dose of a vaccine, he responded "at this stage, the federal government is exploring everything we must do to keep Americans safe, including the possibility of boosters."

"That would be quite another undertaking," said Chyree Heirs-Alexandre, Assistant Director of Practice Management at Brockton Neighborhood Community Health Center, who has the job of figuring out how to get the booster shots to the community.

CBS News reported the booster would be given once the vaccines are fully approved by the FDA, which could happen in September. Americans would likely receive a booster of the same vaccine as the first two shots. Health care workers, nursing home residents and older Americans could be the first in line.

"We know that giving a third shot increases the antibody levels. We're assuming that higher antibody levels mean better protection," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham & Women's Hospital

"We would anticipate that like with many vaccines, we need periodic booster doses. So this isn't really that surprising," Dr. Camille Kotton of Massachusetts General Hospital told WBZ-TV. " I'm glad to see that there will be what sounds like an organized approach."

Dr. Kotton is a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on vaccines, and recently voted in favor of immunocompromised patients being eligible for a third dose. She said she would also support a booster for those who have waning immunity.

"I've seen information coming out of Israel that it looks as though after many months, elderly and others may have a higher risk of both developing disease and perhaps a tendency to have more severe disease," she said.

Dr. Shira Doron of Tufts Medical Center says while a booster shot can only help, it will likely just prevent more cases of mild breakthrough infection. In Massachusetts, of the 4.4 million people vaccinated, only about .29% of people have had a breakthrough case.

If the goal is the prevent more severe disease and death, and eventually end the pandemic, Dr. Doron feels extra vaccine doses could be better used elsewhere.

"We need to focus our efforts on other countries because that in turn makes us safer than giving people boosters, which at this point are still just preventing mild illness," Dr. Doron told WBZ-TV's Kristina Rex. "We have to realize that we are safer in the long run if we stop massive conflagrations that are happening in other parts of the world that are how variants emerge."

Sec. Becerra said the Biden administration is following the science and hopes Americans will follow any recommendations to come.

"The federal government is exploring everything we must do to keep Americans safe, including the possibility of boosters," he said. "Stay tuned. They will continue to inform the public."

As for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a booster shot is expected to be needed, but federal health officials are waiting for more data.


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