CDC director acknowledges ‘confusion’ over COVID-19 boosters
WASHINGTON - The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she recognizes there’s some confusion now in the United States about who should get a COVID-19 vaccine booster.
For starters, the just-approved booster is intended for people originally vaccinated with shots made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.
Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky sided with most of the recommendations from CDC advisers on giving boosters six months after the last Pfizer dose for certain groups of people.
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That includes people 65 and older, nursing home residents and people ages 50 to 64 with chronic health problems such as diabetes. People 18 and older with health problems can decide for themselves if they want a booster.
But Walensky also overrode advisers’ objections and said people at increased risk of infection because of their jobs or their living conditions could qualify for a booster now. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.
"I recognize that confusion right now," Walensky told CBS’ "Face the Nation."
"We are evaluating this science in real time," she said. "We are meeting every several weeks now to evaluate the science. The science may very well show that the rest of the population needs to be boosted and we will provide those guidances as soon as we have the science to inform them."
People who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are waiting to hear when they might be eligible for a booster.
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Scientists inside and outside the government have been divided recently over the need for boosters and who should get them, and the World Health Organization has strongly objected to rich nations giving a third round of shots when poor countries don’t have enough vaccine for their first.
While research suggests immunity levels in those who have been vaccinated wane over time and boosters can reverse that, the Pfizer vaccine is still highly protective against severe illness and death, even amid the delta variant.
Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he was supportive of a third dose for adults over 60 or 65, but "I really have trouble" supporting it for anyone down to age 16.
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While an extra shot would probably at least temporarily reduce cases with mild or no symptoms, "the question becomes what will be the impact of that on the arc of the pandemic, which may not be all that much," Offit said.
President Joe Biden’s top health advisers, including the heads of the FDA and CDC, first announced plans for widespread booster shots in mid-August, setting the week of Sept. 20 as an all-but-certain start date. But that was before FDA staff scientists had completed their own assessments of the data.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.