U.S. Rollout of COVID Booster Shots to Begin Mid-September

People who received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can receive a third shot eight months later.

woman getting vaccinated

Updated on August 18, 2021.

As of September 20, COVID booster shots will be available to all Americans who have already received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine. Pending an independent review of safety and efficacy data by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), those who got two mRNA shots can roll up their sleeves for a third, starting eight months after they got their second dose. For example, someone who got their second shot on March 12 can get their booster on November 12.  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the decision on August 18 in a joint statement, which included the CDC, the FDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as well as Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, the U.S. Surgeon General and Anthony Fauci, MD, President Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor among others.

“We have developed a plan to begin offering these booster shots this fall subject to FDA conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence," the statement said.

How the booster rollout will work

Like the initial vaccine rollout, which began back in December 2020, medical professionals, teachers and other frontline workers will be among the first eligible to receive a booster shot by mid-September.

“We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting eight months after an individual’s second dose. At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster,” according to the statement.

“We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time, given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them.”

The booster dose is intended to fend off declining immunity among vaccinated people and help bolster protection against the highly infectious and more severe Delta variant. Delta is currently the dominant strain in circulation in the United States, accounting for roughly 90 percent of new cases.

What the latest research shows

The decision to recommend boosters is based on three studies published August 18 by the CDC, which show the following:

  • Vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 is decreasing over time.
  • Existing vaccines are not as effective against the Delta variant.
  • Higher levels of antibodies may be needed to protect against Delta.
  • A booster mRNA dose increases antibody levels by at least 10-fold (probably more).

So, anticipating further waning immunity amid the Delta surge, top health officials say boosters are necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” the statement said.

“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

The research also supports one bright spot: Existing vaccines have remained highly effective in protecting against severe COVID-19 and hospitalizations.

Some immunocompromised people don’t need to wait

Roughly a week earlier, on August 12, the FDA authorized booster shots of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems. That group includes, “specifically, solid organ transplant recipients or those who are diagnosed with conditions that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise,” according to the agency’s statement.

For these people, their booster should still be the same vaccine that was given in the previous doses, but it may be given starting 28 days after their received the second shot.

Kickstarting stalled vaccination rates remains a priority

Health officials stressed that getting all Americans vaccinated and supporting vaccinations around the world remains a top priority, noting that there are enough vaccines to cover booster doses in the U.S. as well as initial shots for everyone. They said it will be “just as easy to get a third shot,” reporting vaccines are available at some 80,000 sites across the country. Boosters are also free, regardless of people’s immigration or insurance status.

“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,” the statement said.

“We also want to emphasize the ongoing urgency of vaccinating the unvaccinated in the U.S. and around the world. Nearly all the cases of severe disease, hospitalization, and death continue to occur among those not yet vaccinated at all. We will continue to ramp up efforts to increase vaccinations here at home and to ensure people have accurate information about vaccines from trusted sources. We will also continue to expand our efforts to increase the supply of vaccines for other countries, building further on the more than 600 million doses we have already committed to donate globally.”

What about those who got the J&J shot?

U.S. health officials say booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but since this vaccine was rolled out after the mRNA vaccines, plans for booster doses are still being developed as research becomes available.

“Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks,” the statement said.

Article sources open article sources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Joint Statement from HHS Public Health and Medical Experts on COVID-19 Booster Shots.” Aug 18, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021. Weekly / August 6, 2021 / 70(31);1059-1062.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Vaccines for Moderately to Severely Immunocompromised People.” Aug 18, 2021.

More On

How to Help Your Child Transition to Summer


How to Help Your Child Transition to Summer
Graduations and vacations are very different during the pandemic. Here’s advice for helping your family navigate the changes.
How to Deal With Strong Emotions


How to Deal With Strong Emotions
Stop running away from intense feelings. Avoid emotional outbursts with these helpful techniques
Is it time to brace for a “tripledemic”—flu, COVID, and RSV?


Is it time to brace for a “tripledemic”—flu, COVID, and RSV?
Learn what to expect this season, and how this year is already different from any other.
A Daily Schedule for Building Resilience


A Daily Schedule for Building Resilience
The ability to adapt to stress is something you can develop through practice. Here’s how to get started.