Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, defended President Biden’s decision last month to announce the availability of Covid booster shots before regulators had weighed in, and he urged vaccinated Americans to wait until they were eligible for an extra shot before getting one.
Dr. Fauci’s remarks on three Sunday morning news shows followed a vote Friday by an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration, which recommended that those who received the Pfizer vaccine get a booster dose if they are over 65 or are at high risk of developing severe Covid-19. The panel’s recommendation, represented a more limited plan than one that Mr. Biden had announced over the summer, in which he said that, beginning Sept. 20, all Americans who had been fully vaccinated would be eligible for booster shots eight months after their last dose.
The panel’s members decided that there was not yet enough evidence to recommend the extra shots for younger, healthier people, given evidence that the vaccine continues to protect against severe disease and deaths in that group.
The F.D.A. is expected to make a decision on boosters in the coming days. It usually follows the recommendation of its advisory committees but is not required to do so.
The debate over boosters has happened during a relentless surge of the extremely transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 99 percent of cases tracked in the country, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While hospitalizations and new cases have started to trend slowly downward, deaths have topped an average of 2,000 per day for the first time since March 1, according to a New York Times database. Vaccinations have been shown to protect against severe illness brought on by Delta.
Mr. Biden’s announcement concerned regulators at the F.D.A., given that it came before the agency had evaluated the data on whether the shots were needed. Two top vaccine officials soon announced that they would depart the agency this fall, in part over the issue.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dr. Fauci said Mr. Biden “wasn’t getting ahead of the science,” noting that the president always said the plan was dependent on authorization by the F.D.A.
“I think people are not understanding the difference of planning for something and actually what element of that, what proportion of it, you’re actually going to roll out,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Dr. Fauci also asked Americans to be patient and wait until they are eligible for an additional shot, adding that it would be only weeks before data on whether an extra shot of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines was needed.
“We’re working on that right now to get the data to the F.D.A., so they can examine it and make a determination about the boosters for those people,” he said. “They’re not being left behind by any means.”
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
As more information comes in about how the original vaccines are working, Dr. Fauci said he expects to see the plan for boosters change. “In real-time, more and more data are accumulating,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There will be a continual re-examination of that data, and potential modification of recommendations.”
Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, echoed those remarks on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying that the category of who is eligible for an extra shot would likely be expanded in the “coming weeks.”
Dr. Fauci also confirmed that the timeline for the authorization of vaccines for children under 12 continues to be this fall. About 48 million children in the United States are under 12 and therefore still ineligible for a vaccine.
Pfizer has said that it expects to announce the results of its children’s vaccine trial before the end of September. Dr. Fauci said the results from Moderna’s trial will likely come a few weeks later.
“Sometime in the mid to late fall, we will be seeing enough data from the children from 11 down to 5 to be able to make a decision to vaccinate them,” he said.