WASHINGTON (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadened its recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots to include all adults because of the new Omicron variant.
The agency had previously approved boosters for all adults, but only recommended them for those 50 years and older or living in long-term care settings.
“Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”
“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors, including where surges may take place,” it added. “The overall global risk … is assessed as very high.”
The WHO stressed that while scientists are hunting evidence to better understand this variant, countries should accelerate vaccinations as quickly as possible.
While no deaths linked to omicron have been reported so far, little is known for certain about the variant, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade vaccines. Last week, a WHO advisory panel said it might be more likely to re-infect people who have already had a bout with COVID-19.
Scientists have long warned that the virus will keep finding new ways to exploit weaknesses in the world’s vaccination drive, and its discovery in Africa occurred in a continent where under 7% of the population is vaccinated.
“The emergence of the omicron variant has fulfilled, in a precise way, the predictions of the scientists who warned that the elevated transmission of the virus in areas with limited access to vaccine would speed its evolution,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI, one of the founders of the U.N.-backed global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.
U.S. President Joe Biden called the omicron variant a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.” He said he is not considering any widespread U.S. lockdown and instead urged mask-wearing and vaccinations, even as a federal judge blocked his administration from enforcing a requirement that thousands of health care workers in 10 states get the shot.