COVID-19 vaccine boosters recommended for 65+, at-risk people: U.S. CDC advisers

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: FDA panel backs Pfizer booster only for 65+, high-risk Americans'
COVID-19: FDA panel backs Pfizer booster only for 65+, high-risk Americans
COVID-19: FDA panel backs Pfizer booster only for 65+, high-risk Americans – Sep 17, 2021

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel on Thursday recommended a booster shot of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older and some adults with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of severe disease.

The panel by a vote of 9-6 declined to recommend boosters for adults ages 18 to 64 who live or work in institutions with high risk of contracting COVID-19, based on individual risk, such as healthcare workers, teachers and residents of homeless shelters and prisons. Some panel members cited the difficulty of implementing such a proposal.

Panel member Lynn Bahta, who works with the Minnesota Department of Health, voted against that measure, which would have broadly increased availability. “I don’t think we have the data,” to support boosters in that group yet, she said.

The guidelines voted on by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices still need to be signed off on by agency Director Rochelle Walensky. The recommendations are not binding, and states and other jurisdictions could disregard them and use other approaches to administering the booster shots.

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Still, the vote by the group, following U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorization, clears the way for a booster rollout to begin as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second dose of the Pfizer shot at least six months ago.

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The CDC said that some 26 million people in the United States received the second Pfizer/BioNTech shot at least six months ago, including 13 million age 65 or older.

Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden and eight top health officials said they hoped to start booster shots the week of Sept. 10 for all people eight months after they had been vaccinated, saying that emerging data showed immunity wanes over time.

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But many scientists, including some high-profile FDA officials, questioned the need for the extra shots, saying the vaccine’s protection against death and severe COVID-19 has remained strong over time.

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A group of independent FDA advisers last week overwhelmingly rejected recommending a broader approval of booster doses and instead recommended a narrower authorization.

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

Pfizer – and some top U.S. health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci – have argued that the extra 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.

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The United States is averaging about 128,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, off an August high of about 160,000. The recent wave of U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations, primarily among the unvaccinated, may also have peaked, although the nation was still recording some 1,500 COVID-19 deaths a day over the last week, according to CDC data.

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Some countries, including Israel and the United Kingdom, have already begun COVID-19 booster campaigns. The United States authorized extra 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.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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