Government advisers unanimously recommended extra doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans over the age of 65 as well as nursing home residents Thursday, despite concerns from some experts that the booster shots will do little to slow the global pandemic.
The 15-member Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also voted 13-2 to recommend boosters for Americans over the age of 50 with underlying medical conditions. The panel also recommended, by a 9-6 vote, that boosters be offered to adults under 50 with underlying medical conditions if they wish to receive a third dose.
The booster shots would be given at least six months after a patient receives the second of two regularly scheduled doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The recommendations come one day after the Food and Drug Administration voted to approve Pfizer vaccine boosters for seniors, people at high risk of severe illness, and health care workers and others in danger of becoming infected on the job. The CDC panel voted against recommending boosters for people in the third group.
Last week, an independent FDA advisory panel opted not to recommend boosters for every American over the age of 16 — dealing an embarrassing setback to the Biden administration, which had set aside enough booster shots for most Americans despite pleas from Third World nations and the World Health Organization to prioritize vaccine distribution to other countries.
According to the CDC, 182.4 million Americans are considered fully vaccinated, a little more than 64 percent of the eligible population and more than 54 percent of the total US population. Approximately 26 million Americans received their second Pfizer shot at least six months ago.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky opened Thursday’s meeting by stressing that vaccinating the unvaccinated remains the top goal “here in America and around the world.”
Walensky acknowledged that the data on who really needs a booster right away “are not perfect.”
“Yet collectively they form a picture for us,” she said, “and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic.”
The CDC advisers expressed concern over the millions more Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still hasn’t considered boosters for those brands and has no data on whether it’s safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.
“I just don’t understand how later this afternoon we can say to people 65 and older you’re at risk for severe illness and death but only half of you can protect yourselves right now,” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University, who was one of the two who voted against recommending boosters for under-65s.
CDC data indicates the vaccines still offer strong protection for all ages, but there is a slight drop among the oldest adults. And immunity against milder infection appears to be waning months after people’s initial immunization.
Among people who stand to benefit from a booster, there are few risks, the CDC concluded. Serious side effects from the first two Pfizer doses are exceedingly rare, including heart inflammation that sometimes occurs in younger men. Data from Israel, which has given nearly 3 million people — mostly 60 and older — a third Pfizer dose, has uncovered no red flags.
The U.S. has already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. The CDC estimates that 2.3 million Americans have received at least one additional dose since Aug. 13.
With Post wires