US Centers for Disease Control Authorizes COVID-19 Boosters for Frontline Workers Aged 18-64 – Widening Access to Third Jab
US regulatory agencies established the populations eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech booster shot this week, paving the way for the rollout of boosters nationwide.

The Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr Rochelle Walensky, has authorized millions of frontline workers in health care and school settings to receive a third COVD-19 vaccine booster dose-  opening the gates for a much wider wide swathe of Americans, ages 18-64, to receive the controversial booster shots. 

Her ruling late Thursday overruled that of a CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which had endorsed Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots only for millions of older individuals and others at high risk of contracting the disease after a meeting on Thursday.

However, the panel voted against allowing frontline workers aged 18 to 64 years from getting another jab. This had put the recommendations at odds with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to authorize Pfizer booster shots for workers at risk, on Wednesday. 

The FDA authorized the use of boosters at least six months after the completion of the primary vaccination series in individuals over the age of 65; those aged 18 to 64 at a high risk of severe COVID-19; and those aged 18 to 64 whose occupation puts them at a high risk of serious complications of COVID-19.

Walensky’s decision to include adults working in high-risk settings, such as health care and school systems, aligned the CDC’s policy with the FDA. 

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said at a meeting on Thursday. “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

Dr Rochelle Walensky, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

She said that providing boosters to healthcare workers would “best serve the nation’s public health needs.”

Walensky’s decision will cover healthcare workers, teachers, and people living or working in institutional settings, such as prisons or homeless shelters. 

The panel attempted to limit those eligible for boosters, refusing to open jabs to healthy adults who aren’t at risk of severe illness. Members of the advisory committee wanted to avoid an all-adult booster campaign. 

Walensky’s decision was announced late on Thursday, demonstrating the complex decision making around the issue of boosters. 

The recommendations from the CDC and FDA still represent a considerable scale back on US President Joe Biden’s far reaching booster plan, which was designed to rollout the week of September 20. 

Some 20 million people are now eligible for a booster and in the coming months 40 million more people will become eligible, said Biden at a White House press briefing on Friday. 

Only Americans who already received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will qualify for booster shots.  FDA authorization of boosters for Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines and the safety of allowing mixing-and-matching with boosters, has yet to be addressed. 

‘Pandemic of the unvaccinated’ needs to be urgently addressed

Despite the current focus on boosters, the priority of vaccinations should be on getting the unvaccinated their first shots, which is the leading cause of rising COVID cases and hospitalizations, American experts have stated, echoing the position of the World Health Organization and many other global health officials.

“We can give boosters to people, but that’s not really the answer to this pandemic,” Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University, told NPR. “Hospitals are full because people are not vaccinated. We are declining care to people who deserve care because we are full of unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.”

According to Walensky, the top goal “here in America and around the world” is to vaccinate the unvaccinated. 

Over 70 million have yet to get a single shot, said Biden. 

US President Joe Biden at a press conference on the COVID-19 Response and the Vaccination Program on Friday.

“Listen to the voices of the unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, taking their final breaths, saying…’If only I got vaccinated,'” Biden said. “People are dying and will die who don’t have to die.” 

Biden urged people to get vaccinated and announced his commitment to implement vaccination requirements wherever possible. Currently the vaccination mandates cover two thirds of all workers in the US. 

“We made so much progress during the past eight months of this pandemic, now we face a critical moment,” said Biden. “We have the tools, we have the plan, we just have to finish the job together as one nation. And I know we can…Please look out for your own self interest and health here. Get vaccinated.”

Image Credits: Flickr – Province of British Columbia, International Monetary Fund/Ernesto Benavides, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, White House.

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