ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – As U.S. health officials plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots to vaccinated Americans, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he’s not ready to endorse the shot.
“I said if the FDA approves it, it’ll be available for people, but it’s hard for me to say go do this when I haven’t seen any data,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Ormond Beach.
U.S. health officials Wednesday announced plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to those who are vaccinated to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and signs that the vaccines’ effectiveness is slipping.
The plan, as outlined by the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top health 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.
“Our plan is to protect the American people, to stay ahead of this virus,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said as the agency cited a raft of studies suggesting that the vaccines are losing ground while the highly contagious variant spreads.
People who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also probably need extra shots, health officials said. But they said they are waiting for more data.
DeSantis, who has touted the coronavirus vaccine, encouraged Floridians not to take health experts at their word and said people need to do their own research.
“Just because some expert says something, you have to look at the underlying data for what they’re trying to say,” DeSantis said.
Officials said it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against infections wanes over time, and they noted the worsening picture in Israel, which has seen a rise in severe cases, many of them in people already inoculated.
They said the U.S. needs to get out ahead of the problem before it takes a more lethal turn here and starts leading to increased hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost expert on COVID-19, said one of the key lessons of the coronavirus is that it’s better to “stay ahead of it than chasing after it.”
Israel is already offering booster shots to people over 50. And European regulators are looking into the idea.
The first boosters would go to people in high-priority groups that received the initial U.S. vaccinations: nursing home residents, health workers and those with underlying health conditions. Health officials are likely to recommend that the booster be the same brand of vaccine that people received initially.
DeSantis said if the booster does get FDA approval, it will be widely available in Florida pharmacies but stopped short of saying it would be available at state vaccine sites unless the demand requires it.
“I think even if there’s strong demand for that my sense is, is that we probably have enough, but we’ll look at that and see and if there’s anything more we need to do, we’ll go ahead and do it,” said DeSantis, who has been promoting monoclonal antibody treatments for those infected with the virus.
Publix, CVS and Walgreens began offering a third COVID-19 vaccine shot for certain immunocompromised people after the Food and Drug Administration ruled -- and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended -- last week that some people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and organ transplant recipients, can get a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.