CDC Director Expands Boosters, Urges Unvaccinated to Get Shots

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, late Thursday overruled her agency’s advisory panel to make boosters available to front-line workers. But unless the unvaccinated get their shots, the extra protection will not be enough, she said at a Friday briefing.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Thursday recommended the boosters for all people 65 and older and for those 50 to 64 who have medical conditions.

Though the committee voted against broadening the recommendation for people 18 to 64 who are at higher risk because of their occupations, Walensky overrode that decision. Those include front-line workers like health care staff, grocery store employees, and teachers.

“Had I been in the room and on the committee, I would have voted yes,” she said. “That is reflected in my resulting decision to allow the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster dose for those 18 and older at high risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational and institutional exposure.”

But that will not be enough to beat the virus, Walensky said.

“I want to be clear: We will not boost our way out of this pandemic,” she said. “Infections among the unvaccinated continue to fuel this pandemic, resulting in a rising number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

About 60 million Americas will be eligible for a third dose of the vaccine after 6 months, and 20 million are already eligible, federal health officials said.

“We are ready to get booster shots in arms right away,” said White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients. “We’ve secured enough boosters for every American,” which, he said, will be free for everyone regardless of immigration or insurance status. 

President Joe Biden said during a Friday morning briefing that booster shots are available starting today in more than 80,000 locations nationwide, including 40,000 pharmacies.

As of now, only those who received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible for a third shot. That is likely to change in the coming weeks, said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD.

Murthy, speaking directly to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients, said getting boosters approved for everyone is a “high, high priority.”

“Your health matters just as much as other vaccine recipients,” he said. “We want to make sure your protection against COVID-19 is strong and reliable as well. That’s why the FDA is working closely with Moderna and J&J to get and process their data as quickly as possible.

Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, MD, warned the public that getting boosters before the 6-month period is up will lessen their effectiveness.

“If you allow the immune response to mature over a period of a few months, you get much more of a bang out of the shot,” he said. “There might be a natural feeling of, ‘Well gee, I’m getting anxious, I really want to get my third shot right now.’…You want to make sure there’s an immunological reason for that time frame.”

Sources:

News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team, Sept. 24, 2021.

News briefing, President Joe Biden, Sept. 24, 2021.

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