As COVID cases rise, U.S. health officials mull widening additional booster eligibility

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People queue to be tested for COVID-19 in Times Square, as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health officials are considering extending the eligibility for a second COVID-19 vaccine booster dose to people under 50 amid a steady rise in cases, with the United States seeing a threefold increase over the past month.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had in late March authorized a second booster dose of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech SE vaccines for people aged 50 and older, citing data showing waning immunity and the risks posed by Omicron variants of the virus.

"With regard to a fourth dose for those under the age of 50, that is going to require action from the FDA, and we're in conversations there," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walenksy said on Wednesday.

Cases have steadily risen over the past five weeks, Walensky said at a White House briefing, with the the current seven-day average of daily cases rising 26% from the previous week to 94,000 cases per day and up threefold over the last month. The seven-day average for hospitalizations was up 19% to about 3,000 per day and the average for deaths was 275 per day, she said.

"We of course must remember that each person lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy and that nearly 300 deaths a day is still far too many," said Walensky.

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Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical policy with a focus on the Department of Health and Human Services and the agencies it oversees such as the Food and Drug Administration, previously based in Iraq and Egypt.