US CDC director breaks with panel, backs Covid-19 boosters for high-ri…

  • The CDC has finally backed a booster shot of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the US.
  • This applies to Americans aged 65 and older, along with some adults who have inner medical conditions. 
  • People in high-risk working and institutional settings like healthcare workers are also being considered.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday backed a booster shot of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older, some adults with inner medical conditions and some adults in high-risk working and institutional settings.

The move comes after an advisory panel to the agency on Thursday did not recommend that people in high-risk jobs, such as teachers, and risky living conditions should get boosters.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said her agency had to make recommendations based on complicate, often imperfect data.

she said in a statement.

In a pandemic, already with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good. I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with inner medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to Covid-19. This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorisation and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.

The CDC recommendation follows US Food and Drug Administration authorisation and clears the way for a booster rollout to begin as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second measure of the Pfizer shot at the minimum six months ago.

The CDC said that people 65 years and older should get a booster. Beyond older Americans, the CDC also recommended the shots for all adults over 50 with inner conditions.

It said that, based on individual benefits and risks, 18- to 49-year-olds with inner medical conditions may get a booster, and people 18-64 at increased risk of exposure and transmission due to occupational or institutional setting may get a shot.

The recommendations only cover people who received their second Pfizer/BioNTech shot at the minimum six months earlier. The CDC said that group is currently about 26 million people, including 13 million age 65 or older.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices on Thursday gave the thumbs down to additional doses for groups including healthcare workers, teachers and residents of homeless shelters and prisons.

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Panel member Lynn Bahta, who works with the Minnesota Department of Health, voted against that measure.

She said the data does not sustain boosters in that group in addition. “The science shows that we have a really effective vaccine,” she said.

The committee had said it could revisit the guidance later.

Last month, US President Joe Biden and eight top health officials said they hoped to start a general booster shot program this week, saying that emerging data showed immunity wanes over time.

Vaccine expert Dr Paul Offit said he believed the CDC advisers were worried that recommending boosters based on employment would allow overly general use, especially in younger people for whom the health benefits of a booster shot are nevertheless unclear.

He said:

That was a hole that you could excursion a truck by, that essentially what we were doing was basically what the (Biden) administration initially asked – to just have a vaccine for the general population, because clearly the pharmacists aren’t going to figure out whether you’re working in a grocery store or hospital.

More than 180 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated, or about 64% of the eligible population.

Pfizer – and some top US health officials like Dr Anthony Fauci – have argued that the additional round of shots are needed to address waning immunity.

Fauci and others have also said they could help contain surging hospitalizations and deaths caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus by cutting breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated people.

Some countries, including Israel and the United Kingdom, have already begun Covid-19 booster campaigns.

The United States authorised additional shots for people with compromised immune systems last month and around 2.3 million people have already received a third shot, according to the CDC.

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