WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — U.S. health officials Wednesday recommended all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling.
The Biden administration will also require that nursing home staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
President Joe Biden announced the move Wednesday afternoon in a White House address as the administration continues to look for ways to use mandates to encourage vaccine holdouts to get shots.
“If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” Biden said.
Biden also said he was directing the Department of Education to use all available tools to safely reopen schools.
“If you aren’t going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who is trying,” Biden said.
The president also said he disagreed with world leaders who argue other countries should get their first coronavirus vaccine shots before Americans get a booster shot.
“We can take care of America and help the world at the same time,” Biden said.
The booster plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top authorities, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
Health officials said booster shot availability is contingent on FDA approval for widening the recommendation of a third dose to all Americans.
Booster shots are already available and approved by the FDA for those with compromised immune systems.
“The time to lay out a plan for a widespread booster shot is now,” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said.
Murthy added that the decision to recommend boosters was not made lightly and was made based on the data from the delta variant’s rise.
Health officials said that they anticipate that people who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine will also need boosters. They are still studying data for when booster vaccinations will be recommended for those with the J&J shot.
The White House COVID-19 task force response coordinator Jeff Zients called the ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19 infections as a “war” and added they are viewing the response with booster shots similarly.
“Our approach on booster shots is simple and consistent with our approach on every other aspect in this war,” Zients said.
In a statement announcing the booster recommendation, the coronavirus task force said it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against infection wanes over time, and now, with the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly, “We are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”
“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead,” they said.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci added that the latest immunological data shows that a booster shot increases protection against COVID-19 10 fold which is among the reasons health officials changed their recommendation.
Top scientists at the World Health Organization bitterly objected to the U.S. plan, noting that poor countries are not getting enough vaccines for their initial rounds of shots. They have called for vaccine equity and “solidarity” among countries.
The White House reinforced the U.S. is still committed to sending as many shots overseas as it can. Zients added that the U.S. has shipped more vaccine globally than any other country in the world and the booster shots will not impact their commitments to sending more shots overseas.
“We can and must do both at the same time. Because that’s what it’s going to take to end this pandemic,” Zients said.
The delta variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the U.S., especially in areas with lower vaccination rates. A Reuters tally estimates that 42 people died an hour of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Just weeks after President Joe Biden declared the country’s “independence” from COVID-19 on July Fourth, emergency rooms in parts of the South and West are overloaded again, and cases are now averaging nearly 140,000 per day, quadrupling in just a month.
Health officials have speculated throughout the U.S.’ COVID-19 vaccination campaign about the possibility of encouraging booster shots. They are a common measure used for other vaccines since protection decreases over time.
Researchers and health experts have stressed that the vaccines do provide strong protection against the delta variant. The majority of those suffering severe illness from the delta variant are unvaccinated Americans.
In making the announcement on boosters, the CDC released three studies conducted during the delta surge that suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective at keeping Americans out of the hospital but that their ability to prevent infection is dropping markedly among nursing home patients and others.
However, the new studies — on their own — fall short of the kind of data that some experts thought would be necessary for a recommendation like that.
Overall vaccination rates have increased with the delta variant’s rise. Currently, 59.8% have at least one dose and 50.8% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated according to CDC data.
While governments and businesses initially offered incentives such as cash and prizes for getting vaccinated, the surge in cases has caused some companies and states to mandate vaccines if workers want to keep their jobs and not face routine testing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.