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CDC Director Backs Pfizer Booster Shots For Seniors, Vulnerable—And High-Risk Workers

Topline

Millions of Americans are now eligible to receive a third booster dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the shot for seniors, high-risk workers and clinically vulnerable Friday, overruling a narrower recommendation from the agency’s advisers Thursday and paving the way for the U.S. booster drive to begin.

Key Facts

Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations made by a panel of expert advisers Thursday, who endorsed offering the booster shot to people aged 65, nursing home residents and people aged between 50 and 64 with underlying medical conditions. 

The panel voted against recommending the third shot to healthy people under 65, including those in high-risk professions like healthcare workers and teachers. 

Walensky overruled this—an unusual, though not unprecedented, move—and also recommended the shot be offered to adults in high-risk jobs.

Younger adults with underlying medical conditions or in an at-risk institutional setting such as prison may also get the shot.  

Walensky’s recommendations bring the CDC’s guidance in line with that from the Food and Drug Administration, which cleared Pfizer’s vaccine to be given in a third booster dose to seniors, high-risk workers and those at risk of severe illness.

Crucial Quote

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a statement late Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

What To Watch For 

The FDA is reviewing Moderna’s application for an approval of a booster dose. On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson said a second booster dose of their one-shot vaccine provided stronger protection against Covid-19.  

Key Background

The U.S. approved booster shots for immunocompromised people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in August and announced plans to roll out boosters to the general public in September. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee sank plans for a broad booster rollout last week, approving Pfizer’s shots—made with German biotech firm BioNTech—for vulnerable groups unanimously but rejecting them for otherwise healthy individuals, citing a lack of evidence. The issue has sparked fierce debate among agency advisers and the director and deputy director of FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review were co-authors of a paper in the Lancet arguing against the need for boosters in the general public at the moment. The rollout of booster shots has outraged public health leaders around the world, who brand the decision as unfair given the vast inequalities in vaccine access around the world. The WHO has called for a moratorium on boosters until 2022.

Further Reading

CDC Advisors Recommend Pfizer Booster For Seniors And Some People With Underlying Conditions (Forbes)

FDA Authorizes Pfizer Covid Booster Shots For Seniors And High-Risk Patients — But Not For All Americans (Forbes)

FDA Advisory Panel Recommends Against Pfizer Covid Boosters—Except For People Over 65 (Forbes)

Fauci Warns Not To Get Booster Shot Before Approval — Which Could Be A Few Weeks Away For Some (Forbes)

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