A panel of expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously to recommend the authorization of COVID-19 booster shots for people 65 and older and for those at high risk of severe illness. The Pfizer booster shot should be given at least six months after the second dose, the panel said. The move marked a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s pledge to deliver booster shots for all Americans in the near future. “The plan is for every adult to get a booster shot eight months after you got your second shot,” Biden had said last month, with the hopes that the program would start by Sept. 20. Although at the time the president cautioned health authorities would still need to approve the plan he sounded fairly certain. “Just remember,” he said, “as a simple rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot.”
Despite Biden’s earlier pledge, the panel of experts voted 16-2 against approving a booster for all people 16 and older. It did recommend that those considered at high risk should also include people who are highly exposed to the virus because of their jobs, including health care workers and emergency responders. Officials say teachers could also be considered part of that group. A final decision from the FDA about booster shots is expected by next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also have to weigh in on the issue. The panel didn’t address when those who received vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson could be eligible for boosters.
The hours of debate that preceded the panel’s vote on booster shots illustrate how the science is still out on the issue. Many committee members said there wasn’t enough data to make a clear recommendation on whether the benefits of a booster shot outweighed the risk for younger adults. Beyond that calculation, Biden’s endorsement of universal booster shots had also been highly criticized by global health groups that are calling on richer countries to refrain from administering third doses when so much of the world has yet to provide first doses to much of the at-risk population.