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CDC Advisers Deliberate Over The Need For A Pfizer COVID Vaccine Booster


A CDC advisory committee greenlit a plan to offer a booster shot to people 65 and older and two other groups at high risk of exposure or serious illness. The move comes one day after the FDA authorized a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a way to shore up waning immunity. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us with the latest.


ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good to be here.

FADEL: So what did the panel decide?

AUBREY: Well, the panel's recommending a booster shot for people 65 and up, as you say, and those living in long-term care facilities, as well as people aged 50 and up with underlying health medical conditions. Now, for younger people under the age of 50 with underlying conditions, the panel determined it should be up to the individual, possibly in consultation with their health care provider.

FADEL: And when and where will people get these shots?

AUBREY: Well, you know, the majority of COVID vaccine shots are being administered in pharmacies, but many hospitals and clinics offer vaccines, too. So many of the places where people have gotten their first and second doses will be giving booster shots, too. And many told me they've been planning for this, they're ready. As to when, people will be eligible at least six months after their second dose. But Dr. Kathleen Dooling of the CDC explained, there's flexibility. It does not need to be six months to the day.

KATHLEEN DOOLING: Immunity wanes gradually over time. Therefore, it's not necessary for the booster dose to be given exactly at six months. In terms of co-administration, Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine booster may be given with other vaccines without regard to timing.

AUBREY: For instance, people could get a flu shot at the same time.

FADEL: So the FDA authorized the Pfizer booster for people who have been fully vaccinated with the same Pfizer vaccine. So where does that leave people who got the other vaccines - Moderna, Johnson & Johnson?

AUBREY: You know, there was a lot of discussion of that today. About 99 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. About 68 million are fully vaccinated with Moderna. About 15 million have gotten J&J. So clearly, a lot of people out there over 65 didn't get the Pfizer vaccine, and they're now wondering, what about me? Several of the panel members said it would be helpful if there was flexibility to mix and match the vaccines. That would make it easier. But Dr. Doran Fink of the FDA weighed in, saying there's not data yet to support this. He said the agency was reviewing Moderna's booster data so that perhaps that could be authorized. And he said he's aware of the calls for more flexibility.

DORAN FINK: I am frustrated, as I know many of you are, with the lack of data. And I can assure you that the FDA is working diligently to arrive at a solution expediently.

AUBREY: So this is something that still needs to be settled.

FADEL: So what about people who are at risk of exposure due to where they work or live, but don't feel they're at high risk? Do they get a booster? Do they want a booster?

AUBREY: Well, Dr. Oliver Brooks (ph), one of the panel members, said it really should be up to the individual. Here he is.

OLIVER BROOKS: It is an individual benefit and risk determination that is made. So if you're 18 and you work in a shelter, but you feel you need a booster, then that's the individual decision.

AUBREY: Now, the FDA had authorized a booster for people whose jobs put them at high risk, but there really was not enough support for that recommendation by the CDC panel. The next move is for the CDC director to accept the recommendations or proposed changes.

FADEL: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thank you for your reporting, as always.

AUBREY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.