Updated Jan 30, 2022 - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration of two direction signs shaped like syringes pointing in different directions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to change it officially.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.

"What we're really working to do is pivot the language to make sure everyone is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines as they personally could be, should be, based on when they got their last vaccine," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing.

  • "If you've recently gotten your second dose but you're not eligible for a booster, you're up-to-date," she said. "If you're eligible for a booster and you haven't gotten it, you're not up-to-date and you need to get your booster."

Between the lines: This evolving language may well fit with vaccine makers' expectations.

  • Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Saturday he would recommend an annual COVID-19 vaccine over frequent booster shots, Reuters reported.

Between the lines: This definition has potential ripple effects, as many cities around the U.S. have begun vaccine mandates.

  • While some businesses, universities and others have begun to require the booster shots, most are using the CDC's definition of "fully vaccinated," which means a person has completed their primary series of COVID vaccines.
  • Canada's top public health officials said Friday they are re-examining the definition of fully vaccinated, the Globe and Mail reported.

The other side: "When I ask patients 'Are you fully vaccinated and they say 'yes,' they may have gotten that second shot seven or eight months ago. So they are not really protected at the levels we need them to be protected," Owais Durrani, an emergency medicine physician at UT Health San Antonio, told Yahoo Finance.

What we're watching: when kids under 5 will be able to actually get vaccinated at all.

  • Pfizer's shot probably won't be available until at least the end of March at the earliest, Pfizer board former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS' "Face the Nation" over the weekend.
  • But NIAID director Anthony Fauci said last week that he hopes those shots might be available within the next month.
  • Moderna also plans to report its data on vaccines for kids ages 2–5 in March and, if the data is promising, would file for regulatory approval within weeks.

Editor's note: This story originally published on Jan. 24.


Want more stories like this? Sign up for Axios PM

Go deeper