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
A key advisory group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday voted to recommend the distribution of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 booster vaccinations to elderly Americans, nursing home residents and other at-risk Americans to clear the way for to level the agency in order to give the final OK already now.
The Agency’s Advisory Committee on Vaccination Practices, in the first of four votes, explicitly unanimously endorsed Pfizer’s third vaccination for people 65 years of age and older and nursing home residents. The panel also recommended the third syringe for adults aged 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
The panel will also vote on whether the shots are recommended to adults who are more likely to be exposed to the virus – possibly including people in nursing homes and prisons, teachers, frontline health workers, and other key personnel.
The elders were among the first groups to receive the first shots in December and January.
The vote is seen primarily as a victory for President Joe Biden, whose administration has announced that it will give booster shots to all eligible Americans aged 16 and over as early as this week. While the CDC panel’s recommendation doesn’t give the Biden government everything it wanted, boosters will still be on the way for millions of Americans.
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 recommendation of the CDC panel is not binding, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the panel’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.
Prior to the vote, some committee members said they were concerned that the wide range of boosters on offer could affect efforts to get unvaccinated vaccines or potentially 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 on data to aid in the widespread use of booster shots, including a presentation by a Pfizer manager showing data showing a third Shot seems to be safe and will raise the antibody levels in the recipients.
During a presentation on Thursday, CDC officer Dr. Sara Oliver observational studies from Israel in which officials in front of many other countries began vaccinating the country’s population and began offering third vaccinations to their citizens in late July.
The Israeli data has been criticized by at least one FDA official because so-called observational studies 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 as 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 administration outlined its plan to widely distribute boosters last month.
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, argued in the medical journal The Lancet that widespread distribution 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.
This is a developing story. Please check again for updates.