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Moderna and Johnson & Johnson release documents about COVID vaccine boosters

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson say people who got their COVID-19 vaccine should get additional doses of both vaccines to boost their protection against the delta variant. That's according to evidence both companies submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. For more, we're joined now by NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, boosters for the Pfizer vaccine already widely available.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Right.

MARTINEZ: And so everyone who got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been wondering about when they will be able to get theirs, too. What happened today, exactly?

STEIN: The FDA released the evidence that both companies submitted to get authorization for additional shots at least six months after getting their initial inoculation. It's for FDA advisers who are going to be meeting on Thursday and Friday to make a recommendation to the agency about this. Both companies say evidence shows protection from both vaccines have been waning, but giving people another shot significantly boosts their protection back up to where it was, even maybe a little bit better.

MARTINEZ: Now, if millions of people who got the Pfizer vaccine are getting boosters, I mean, shouldn't the same go for people who got Moderna and Johnson & Johnson?

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah, you know, you might think it would be a no-brainer, right? Well, you know, the Moderna vaccine is the same kind of vaccine as Pfizer's, and it's been clear for a while that the one-shot J&J vaccine has never provided as good protection as the other two vaccines. But it turns out that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines don't seem to be acting exactly the same. While there is evidence that protection from both vaccines is waning, the Moderna vaccine looks like it's holding up better than the Pfizer vaccine. Experts say the case is much stronger for the need for an additional shot for the J&J vaccine, though some say it might make more sense for people who got that vaccine to get a shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines next instead of another J&J shot.

And remember, the decision about whether to OK a Pfizer booster and for who exactly was very controversial. That's because the vaccines are still really good at keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them alive. And there's also big questions about whether it's just right to give people in this country another shot when most of the world hasn't even gotten the first one.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. What cases did the companies make?

STEIN: You know, Moderna submitted data from people who got a half dose of the vaccine as a booster six months after their second shot. J&J submitted data from people who got a second shot two and six months after the first. Both companies say antibodies had waned six months after the initial vaccination, raising, you know, concerns, but shot back up to an even higher point than was seen after the initial shots when they got the additional, you know, jabs. And the boosters seem safe. Both companies had originally asked for authorization for boosters for anyone age 18 and older. But Moderna's now asking for the same terms as Pfizer's - boosters for anyone 65 and older, adults at high risk for severe COVID and people who are - have living situations or jobs that put them at risk for severe COVID-19. In a separate document, FDA scientists appear to agree with Moderna's assessment. And they haven't weighed in yet on Johnson & Johnson's.

MARTINEZ: Really quick - some more big decisions on the way.

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. The next big one is whether to make the Pfizer vaccine available to younger kids, those ages 5 to 11. FDA advisers will consider that on October 26, and then the CDC will take that up the first week of November. And depending how it goes, young kids could start getting their vaccines before Thanksgiving.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks a lot.

STEIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.