CDC experts advise Covid booster shots for over-65s and vulnerable Americans

The US vaccination drive against Covid-19 stood on the verge of a major new phase as government advisers on Thursday recommended booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans – despite doubts the extra shots will do much to slow the pandemic.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those aged 50 per 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

Deciding who else might get one was far tougher. While there is little evidence that younger people are in danger of waning immunity, the panel offered the option of a booster for those 18 per 49 who have chronic health problems and want one.

But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy frontline healthcare workers who are not at risk of severe illness, but want to avoid even a mild infection.

“We might as well just say give it to everyone 18 and older. We have a very effective vaccine and it’s like saying, ‘It’s not working.’ It is working,” said Dr Pablo Sanchez of Ohio State University, who helped block the broadest booster option.

Ancora, getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority, and the panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal.

All three of the Covid-19 vaccines used in the US still are highly protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, even amid the spread of the extra-contagious Delta variant. But only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, appena 55% of the population.

“We can give boosters to people, but that’s not really the answer to this pandemic,” said Dr Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University. “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.”

Thursday’s decision represented a dramatic scaling back of the Biden administration plan, announced last month, to dispense boosters to nearly everyone to shore up their protection. Late on Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration, like the CDC, signed off on Pfizer boosters for a much more targeted slice of the American population than the White House envisioned.

It falls to the CDC to set final US policy on who qualifies for the extra shot. The CDC usually follows its advisers’ recommendations. A final decision from the agency was expected later on Thursday.

The booster plan marks an important shift in the nation’s vaccination drive. Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries do not have enough for their initial doses.

The CDC advisers expressed concern over the millions more Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still has not considered boosters for those brands and has no data on whether it is safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.

Di 26 million Americans got their last Pfizer dose at least six months ago, about half of whom are 65 or older. It is not clear how many more would meet the CDC panel’s initial booster qualifications.

CDC data shows the vaccines still offer strong protection for all ages, but there is a slight drop among the oldest adults. And immunity against milder infection appears to be waning months after people’s initial immunization.

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