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CDC consultants try to work out details of booster shots


With booster doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine now authorized in the US, government advisers have regrouped to tackle the most controversial question yet: Who should really roll up their sleeves right away

With booster doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine now authorized in the US, government advisers reunited on Thursday to tackle the most controversial question: Who really should be rolling up their sleeves right away?

But that was not the last hurdle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the final US policy on who qualifies for an additional shot. CDC advisers were set to vote Thursday about how many of the nearly 26 million Americans who got their last Pfizer shot at least six months ago should go ahead and receive a third dose.

The widespread distribution of the booster will represent an important new phase in the country’s vaccination campaign. Britain and Israel are already starting third rounds of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough of their initial doses.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Valensky told the meeting that the priority is still non-vaccination “here in the US and around the world.”

She acknowledged that the data on the booster “is not accurate.” “Yet collectively they form a picture for us,” she said, “and they are with us at this moment to decide about the next step in this pandemic.”

Whatever the CDC decides, millions more Americans will still face confusion — those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still hasn’t considered a booster for those brands and there’s no data on whether it’s safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people the Pfizer shot.

The FDA rejected a comprehensive Biden administration plan it had announced a month ago to deliver boosters to the general population, instead adopting a more targeted approach for now. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock cautioned that booster decisions could very well change when real-world data comes in.

“As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of booster doses, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and inform the public,” Woodcock said.

He also explains how to tell when a booster is needed. While an additional dose modifies the number of virus-fighting antibodies, they naturally decrease over time and no one knows how long the antibody boost from Pfizer’s third dose will last — or how much it will actually last. Adds protection because the immune system also creates additional defenses after vaccination.

The US has already authorized a third dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for some people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have in some cases managed to get a booster just by asking.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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