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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine expert panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), on Thursday voted to endorse COVID-19 booster shots for a wide range of individuals, including adults 65 and older, long-term care facility residents and people 50-64 with underlying health conditions. The panel reached its decision just one day after the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for Americans 65 and older and those at high risk who had received the Pfizer vaccine.
The panel also offered the option of a booster for those ages 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one.
People with underlying health conditions might include patients with cancer, stroke, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, diabetes, heart conditions or obesity, as well as pregnant women and smokers, the CDC’s Dr. Kathleen Dooling told the meeting.
The recommendation is that the Pfizer booster shot should be administered at least six months after the primary series, under the FDA’s emergency use authorization.
According to CDC estimates, there are roughly 53 million Americans aged 65 and older, and as many as 100 million people are estimated to have medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. This means a significant number of Americans would be covered.
Also on the table Thursday was a vote to approve the booster jabs for people at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure, a recommendation approved by the FDA Wednesday. This would include health care workers, teachers and other frontline workers.
However, the CDC’s ACIP rejected the FDA’s advice, with many members arguing that the primary series of the vaccines continue to offer robust protection to these individuals and there was not enough data yet to approve the extra dose for this group.
It is likely that the advisory committee will meet again soon to consider boosters for this and other groups. ACIP Chair Grace Lee said it is important to keep in mind that these are interim recommendations that could change in the near future as more data becomes available.
“Decisions we are going to make are for today and today only,” Lee said.
Thursday’s recommendations are only for those who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is nearly 100 million people in the United States.
The decision leaves the millions of people who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines looking for clarity.
But according to White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, the data needed to determine booster shots for the two other U.S. vaccines is just weeks away from being released.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will have to sign off on ACIP’s recommendations. The agency’s director is not bound by the panel’s recommendation but will take the vote into consideration and usually follows the guidance. The booster shots may be given immediately after the CDC director gives final approval.
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