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CDC approves Pfizer booster


Georgians are now able to get the Pfizer booster shots thanks to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After days of long meetings, heated debates, and contentious votes among the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on who should get the Pfizer vaccine, if anyone, Walensky overruled her advisors and gave the final go ahead early Friday morning. The ability to now obtain the booster shot impacts most adults who received their Pfizer shots at least six months earlier. Just like the original vaccines, the approved Pfizer booster shots will be free. 

After making this decision, Wolensky released a statement saying, “As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. 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. I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19. This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.”

Scientists were falling on both sides of the debate with many arguing that it was important to widely open access to boosters, while others said the focus needed to be on getting unvaccinated people vaccinated. 

The most contentious disagreement concerned opening up booster shots to adults who encounter a lot of people in their work or institutional settings. While the obvious beneficiaries in that group would be health care workers, opponents argued that the language essentially opened the shots to any adult including well-protected young people who don’t need a booster. They would get one anyway, unnecessarily adding more stress to the health system. As a result of those discussions, the ACIP members in a split vote, decided to oppose giving the shots to the younger group of workers. Hours later, Walensky overruled them.

Scientists charged with setting guidelines have not determined booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and J&J vaccines. They have also not decided if recipients can take a different vaccine from what they were given earlier in the year. Wolensky has committed to moving with the same sense of urgency to obtain recommendations and approvals for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as data is available. 

Here’s who qualifies:

The “should” groups—CDC wants these groups to get the shot:

·         Anyone 65 years of age or older should get a booster shot.

·         Anyone in a long-term care facility should.

·         Anyone 50 years old to 64 who has underlying medical conditions should.

The “may” groups—CDC says these groups “may” get the shot. But they should consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. The reason for this is that these younger groups are usually so well protected already by the first two shots that a booster shot might be wasted on them.

·         People 18 to 49 years old with underlying medical conditions can get the third shot.

·         People 18 to 64 years old who are at increased risk “because of occupational or institutional settings.

“While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world,” Wolenski said on Friday. “I want to thank ACIP for their thoughtful discussion and scientific deliberation on the current data which informed my recommendation.”

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