The National Institutes of Health on Friday started testing coronavirus vaccine booster shots for people with autoimmune diseases to see if they can help those who have not developed enough protection after their initial doses.

The clinical trial is the federal government’s latest move toward offering additional vaccine shots in hopes of shielding people from the delta variant and other highly infectious versions of the virus.

Researchers will focus on the roughly 8 percent of the population with immune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis that cause their immune systems to attack healthy tissue. They will also examine whether stopping immunosuppressive therapy for such patients gives them a better immune response to the shots.

“We are determined to find ways to elicit a protective immune response to the vaccines in this population,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. “This new study is an important step in that direction.”

Officials this month started allowing immunocompromised people, including organ transplant patients, to receive booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on the advice of their doctors. Booster shots of those vaccines will become available to the wider public next month under a plan the Biden administration unveiled last week.

Here’s what to know

  • The U.S. intelligence community has ruled out the possibility that the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 4 million people globally was developed as a bioweapon by China, but the agencies failed to reach consensus on the virus’s origin, according to key takeaways from a classified report delivered to President Biden this week.
  • A judge in Florida has quashed the state’s ban on school districts issuing mask mandates, finding that officials overstepped their authority. The ruling bars enforcement actions against school districts that decide to require face coverings.
  • President Biden on Friday signaled an openness to beginning coronavirus booster shots earlier than planned. Biden said he spoke to Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Friday morning about the timing of booster shots.
  • For the fourth day in a row, coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the United States exceeded 100,000 as infections continued to climb and medical systems in some hot spots buckled under the influx of patients, per a Washington Post tracker.