Surgeon General defends US booster shot plan as much of the world awaits vaccines

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s plans to begin rolling out booster shots for many Americans the week of Sept. 20, despite criticism from the World Health Organization and others that the U.S. should not offer booster shots to Americans while many countries lag in vaccine access.

“We have to protect American lives and we have to help vaccinate the world because that is the only way this pandemic ends,” Murthy told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

Murthy conceded that — assuming vaccine supply does not change — “taking more vaccines for Americans in the form of boosters will take away from the rest of the world,” but said the focus has been on increasing the supply and pointed to the U.S. donation of more than 120 million vaccine doses to other countries and its 500-million-dose commitment.

While only booster doses of Pfizer and Moderna have been announced, Murthy said they are waiting on efficacy data for a second Johnson & Johnson shot.

“We anticipate the people who receive J&J will likely need a booster as well,” Murthy said.

Asked about the safety of taking a third shot, Murthy emphasized that the booster distribution plan is “contingent on the (Food and Drug Administration) and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Advisory Committee doing their full and independent evaluation.”

“Safety is absolutely essential in this process and we would not execute a plan if the FDA did not weigh in and say that that third shot was in fact safe,” Murthy said. “But again, keep in mind this — that we have a tremendous amount of experience with these vaccines so far.”

The U.S. recorded its highest daily COVID-19 case count in nearly seven months on Thursday, with just over 163,000 new cases reported, according to the CDC.

Amid the surge, U.S. vaccination rates have also increased. White House COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar said Saturday marked the third day in a row that the U.S. has administered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. The White House announced on Friday that at least 200 million Americans have been vaccinated with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The FDA is pushing to issue full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, further expediting an earlier timeline for licensing the shot, according to the New York Times.

Murthy said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the FDA issues full approval of the Pfizer vaccine soon and that approval may convince some individuals on the fence about vaccination to get the shot and encourage companies and schools to implement vaccine mandates.

“I think you’ll see more universities and workplaces that were considering putting in requirements for vaccines to create safer places to learn and work, you’ll see more of them likely moving forward on their plans to require vaccines in the workplace and school,” Murthy said.

Raddatz pressed Murthy on rising pediatric cases and hospitalizations.

“At the beginning of the pandemic COVID largely didn’t affect (children), we’re now seeing hospitalizations rise up, what should we think about when we look at children?” Raddatz asked.

Murthy encouraged adults to get vaccinated to protect children who are ineligible and highlighted measures schools can take to limit the likelihood of COVID transmission.

“I really feel strongly that it is our moral responsibility as this society to do everything we can to protect our children,” Murthy responded. “And that means that number one, all of us getting vaccinated as adults and adolescents is important because kids who are too young to get vaccinated.”

“But it’s also why making sure we are taking every measure possible in schools to ensure that our kids are safe is so important,” Murthy added. “Those include masks, improving ventilation, doing regular testing, and ensuring that our children are outdoors as much as possible.”

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