The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday approved the distribution of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 booster vaccinations to elderly Americans and other vulnerable people, including those in high-risk professional and institutional settings.
Millions of Americans at the highest risk for Covid can now get a Pfizer BioNTech booster shot to increase their protection.
The Agency’s Advisory Committee on Vaccination Practices had previously unanimously endorsed Pfizer’s third vaccination for people 65 years and older and residents of nursing homes and made further recommendations.
CDC director Dr. However, Rochelle Walensky made a recommendation that the advisory panel rejected. The panel voted against giving a booster vaccination to those ages 18 to 64 who were at higher risk of exposure to the virus because of their work place or institutional setting, but Walensky reintroduced that recommendation.
Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- Individuals 65 and over and residents in long-term care facilities should receive a booster of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer BioNTech Primary Series;
- People between the ages of 50 and 64 with pre-existing conditions should receive a booster vaccination from Pfizer-BioNTech at least 6 months after their Pfizer BioNTech primary series;
- Individuals aged 18 to 49 with a history of medical history may receive a booster dose of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for at least 6 months after their Pfizer BioNTech Primary Series, depending on individual benefit and risk;
- Individuals aged 18 to 64 who are at increased risk of exposure and transmission of Covid-19 due to their professional or institutional environment can, depending on the individual, receive a booster dose of the vaccine for at least 6 months after their Pfizer BioNTech primary vaccination course Pfizer-BioNTech receive benefits and risks.
“I believe we can best meet the country’s public health needs by serving the elderly, people in long-term care facilities, people with pre-existing conditions and adults at high risk of illness from professional and institutional exposure to COVID-19,” said Dr. Walensky.
The move is in line with FDA booster approval, she added.
Earlier Thursday, the CDC Advisory Board struggled with a controversial proposal to boost large parts of the US population and rejected the plan by 9 to 6 votes. It would have distributed the shots to nursing home staff, people who live or work in prisons and homeless shelters, frontline health workers, unpaid caregivers, and other key workers like teachers.
“I mean, we might as well say just give it to anyone over 18,” said committee member Dr. Pablo Sanchez before voting against the proposal.
Lisa Wilson receives a syringe of the Pfizer vaccine at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination center in Orlando, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | SOPA pictures | LightRakete | Getty Images
Dr. Leana Wen, emergency doctor and former Baltimore health commissioner, called the CDC panel’s vote to reject boosters more generally a “mistake” on Twitter.
“Really, are we not allowing health workers, many of whom were vaccinated back in December, to be boostered? What about teachers in cramped classrooms that don’t require masks? ”She tweeted, adding that CDC Director Dr. Walensky should override the recommendation.
The recommendation does not go as far as President Joe Biden wanted it to go nowhere. His government said it plans to give booster injections to people aged 16 and over this week. While the CDC panel’s recommendation doesn’t give the Biden government everything it wanted, boosters will be on the way for millions of Americans who originally received Pfizer’s shots.
Confirmation comes a day after the Food and Drug Administration gave many Americans emergency clearance to give third Pfizer shots six months after completing their first two doses. While the CDC committee’s recommendation is non-binding, Walensky is expected to accept the committee’s approval shortly.
Walensky addressed the committee on Thursday ahead of the vote, thanking them for their work and setting out what is at stake.
“These dates are not perfect, but together they paint a picture for us and they are what we have right now to make a decision about the next phase of this pandemic,” she said.
Before the vote, some committee members said they feared the wide range of boosters on offer could affect efforts to get vaccinations to unvaccinated people or possibly reduce confidence in the vaccines’ effectiveness. Others were frustrated that only Pfizer recipients were eligible to receive the vaccinations, leaving out millions of Americans who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The vote came at the end of a two-day meeting during which CDC advisors listened to several presentations of data to support the widespread use of booster vaccinations, including one from a Pfizer manager showing data showing a third Injection appears to be safe and increases antibody levels in recipients.
During a presentation on Thursday, CDC officer Dr. Sara Oliver observational studies from Israel in which officials began vaccinating the country’s population in front of many other countries and offering third vaccinations to their citizens in late July.
The Israeli data has been criticized by at least one FDA official for being based on so-called observational studies, which do not meet the same standards as formal clinical studies.
“We can use Israel’s experience to reinforce our knowledge of booster safety,” Oliver said, adding that the country reported only one case of a rare heart infection known as myocarditis out of nearly 3 million third doses administered .
CDC officer Dr. Kathleen Dooling said the data also suggest a third dose may reduce the risk of serious illness in older adults and people with comorbidities. Possible risks include myocarditis, although this risk is very rare and mostly occurs in men under 30, she said.
“The third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine appears to have a similar reactogenicity to the second dose,” she added.
The issue of who and when to get boosters has been a controversial issue in the scientific community since the Biden government outlined its plan last month to distribute them widely.
In a paper released last week ahead of an FDA advisory session, a leading group of scientists said the available data showed that vaccine protection against serious illnesses persists even as efficacy against mild illness wears off over time. The authors, including two senior FDA officials and several World Health Organization scientists, claimed in the medical journal The Lancet that widespread use of booster syringes to the general public is currently inappropriate.
Outlining plans last month to start distributing boosters as early as this week, Biden government officials cited three CDC studies that showed vaccines protection against Covid had waned over several months. Senior health officials said at the time they feared protection from serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths could “wear off” in the coming months, especially for those at higher risk or vaccinated during the earlier stages of vaccination.
– CNBC’s Robert Towey contributed to this report.