The FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that a booster should be offered without setting a firm time.By Amy Wadas

WASHINGTON (AP/KDKA) — A panel of U.S. health advisers endorsed booster doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine Friday, saying they should be offered at least two months after immunization.

J&J has asked the Food and Drug Administration for flexibility with its booster, arguing the extra dose adds important protection as early as two months after initial vaccination — but that it might work better if people wait until six months later.

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The FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that a booster should be offered without setting a firm time. The advisers cited growing worry that recipients of J&J’s vaccination seem to be less protected than people who got two-dose Pfizer or Moderna options — and that most got that single dose many months ago.

The FDA isn’t bound by the vote but its ultimate decision could help expand the nation’s booster campaign.

The government says all three U.S. vaccines continue to offer strong protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and that the priority is getting first shots to the unvaccinated. But there’s a growing push to shore up protection against “breakthrough” infections and the extra-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine began last month for people at high risk of COVID-19, and the FDA advisory panel has recommended the same approach for Moderna recipients.

While boosters will provide an extra layer of protection for some, doctors want to remind people that if you already got two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or the single-dose J&J vaccine, you’re still protected.

“It’s not that you need a booster because all of a sudden because you are completely unprotected again. The people who are unprotected are those who haven’t chosen the vaccine yet and a small portion of the population who haven’t responded to the first doses of vaccine,” said Dr. Don Yealy with UPMC.

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Doctors said if and when Moderna and J&J receive authorization from the FDA, they’ll be ready. Meantime, the question of mixing vaccines remains a topic of conversation.

“What we know clinically is that the strategies we’re going with, that we have a direction from our public health colleagues to use are highly effective. So I would focus less on ‘am I missing a better strategy?’ and go with what we know right now,” said Dr. Graham Snyder with UPMC.

KDKA’s Amy Wadas asked a few people at a local vaccine clinic Friday what they think about a possible booster shot being available for Moderna and J&J in the near future.

“They know they’re behind so they’re thinking Pfizer is on the ball and they’re not,” said Roxie Eibeck, who just got the Pfizer booster.

“I think if studies are showing it’s helping — because I know there’s people who have gotten the vaccine and got COVID. This is just one way to keep that from happening even after having it,” said Becky Tress, who also just got the Pfizer booster.

As for what’s next, doctors with UPMC say the FDA now has to decide whether it wants to authorize the COVID booster shot for both Moderna and J&J, then the CDC gets to weigh in.

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