David Kessler, the White House COVID-19 response team’s chief science officer, said that COVID-19 vaccine boosters will be provided for free to the American public if needed to keep the pandemic at bay.
"We are planning, and I underscore the word planning, to have booster doses available if necessary for the American people,” Kessler said at a Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, responding to a question from New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan about ensuring fair pricing for COVID-19 vaccines in the long-term.
“We do have the funds to purchase the next round and to assure if there are boosters that they are free just as the last round,” Kessler added. “Beyond 2022, I look to your guidance for at what point do you transition back to a commercial market, but I think for this coming round we are going to proceed as we have proceeded.”
Drug companies are currently testing booster doses for COVID-19 vaccines. Both Pfizer and Moderna are testing a third booster dose in addition to their two-dose mRNA vaccines.
Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla said in an interview last month that people will "likely" require a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccination within 12 months of being fully vaccinated, and the company’s chief scientific officer, told investors earlier this month that they expect high-risk individuals, such as people with underlying medical conditions and the elderly, to be first in line for a booster.
In announcing that they were testing the booster, Bourla said that they believe “the third dose will raise the antibody response 10- to 20- fold” and that a third dose of the vaccine will boost immune response and help protect against variants.
Moderna is researching a number of approaches to booster shots, including utilizing boosters specifically designed to combat variants of concern.
Drug companies have also said in recent weeks that COVID-19 vaccines might require additional annual shots, not unlike the influenza vaccine.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, told CNBC on Tuesday that the U.S. is preparing for the need for boosters “just in case.”
“Right now, if you have two doses of the mRNA vaccines, you are protected,” Dr. Walensky said at CNBC’s “Healthy Returns Summit.”
“What we’re talking about is thinking ahead,” Dr. Walensky said. “What happens if in a year from now, or 18 months from now, your immunity wanes?”
“That’s really our job is to hope for the best and plan for what might happen if we need further boosters in the future, the way we get flu vaccine boosters every year,” she added.
Pfizer announced earlier this month that their vaccine is more than 90% effective at least six months after the second dose is given.