The CDC addresses who needs a booster dose of the COVID vaccine
An influential panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met on Wednesday to discuss which Americans should get booster shots for COVID-19 and when — a question that has proven more controversial than the Biden administration apparently anticipated.
The meeting came days after a different advisory group — this one that serves the Food and Drug Administration — overwhelmingly rejected the White House’s sweeping plan to distribute the third shot to nearly everyone. Instead, that committee endorsed booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine only for the elderly and at risk of contracting the virus.
While COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide powerful protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death, immunity to milder infections appears to decline months after vaccination.
The FDA advisory panel’s decision last week was only the first hurdle as the government puts in place its supportive policy. The FDA has yet to decide whether to agree with its advisors’ recommendation and will allow Pfizer’s boosters to be used.
If that happens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should recommend who should get the extra shots after hearing the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, whose meeting was scheduled to extend into Thursday.
The priority remains vaccinating the unvaccinated, who the CDC says account for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, which have now risen to levels not seen since last winter. About 182 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, roughly 55% of the total population.
“I want to point out that in September 2021 in the United States, deaths from COVID-19 are largely preventable with vaccines through the initial series of any of the three available vaccines,” said Dr. Matthew Daly, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente, Colorado. and a CDC consultant who opened Wednesday’s meeting.
Much of the deliberation at the meeting was expected to revolve around people at high enough risk for an extra dose — for example, whether health care workers who are constantly exposed to the virus should qualify for boosters.
Another question was how many months after the second injection should be given. Scientists talked about six or eight months.
Many experts are perplexed about the need for boosters because they see COVID-19 vaccines working as expected. It is normal for antiviral antibodies to wear off months after vaccination. However, the body has back-up defenses against the virus.
Part of the government’s calculations is whether preventing “breakthrough” infections in all of vaccination can help reduce transmission of the virus, protect young children who are not yet eligible for vaccination, and ease the burden on overburdened health care systems.
The government will decide at a later time whether to allow additional doses of Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
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