US panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for elderly, high-risk

COVID-19 Vaccine

FILE – In this March 2, 2021, file photo, Hollie Maloney, a pharmacy technician, loads a syringe with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. The Biden administration’s embattled plan to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to most Americans faced its first key hurdle Friday, Sept. 17, as a government advisory panel met to decide whether to recommend extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

WASHINGTON (AP/KDVR) — An influential federal advisory panel has overwhelmingly rejected a plan to give Pfizer booster shots against COVID-19 to most Americans, but it endorsed the extra shots for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.

The twin votes Friday represented a heavy blow to the Biden administration’s sweeping effort to shore up nearly all Americans’ protection amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The decision was made by a committee of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration.

Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement Friday evening in response to the vote.

“This recommendation helps remove a deadly impediment that stood in the way of Colorado getting highly effective boosters out to nursing homes residents, and we are planning to start next week as soon as the FDA decision is finalized. Nearly everyone living in nursing homes got the Pfizer vaccine, because it was available first and we prioritized the elderly and most vulnerable, and now we will rapidly roll out the booster to save lives and help end the pandemic. This recommendation for a booster should cover everyone in Colorado who received a Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.

“This recommendation to approve boosters six months after the second dose for people 65 and older, those considered high-risk, and those who work in frontline essential professions like teaching and healthcare that put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 is overdue but welcome news. Depending on the exact wording of the finalization of the decision, we expect that the recommendation for the booster will cover essentially everyone who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago, as the vaccine was only available to those 65 and up, our frontline essential workers including healthcare workers, and teachers including childcare workers for their first dose during February, and in early March opened up to include first doses for those age 60 and up along with frontline workers. The recommended timing of the booster is about six months after the second dose.

“We want to end the pandemic now and our state is ready to administer the booster to our seniors in long-term care and residential facilities starting as soon as next week,” said Governor Polis. “The United States can get more people protected with the first two doses, give effective boosters, and export the safe and effective vaccine to countries abroad — this is not a time to pick just one — our country has enough safe and effective vaccine for all three.”

Gov. Jared Polis statement in response to FDA booster shot vote on Sept. 17, 2021

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — An influential federal advisory panel has soundly rejected a plan to offer Pfizer booster shots against COVID-19 to most Americans.

The vote Friday, 16-2, was a blow to the Biden administration’s effort to shore up people’s protection against the virus amid the highly contagious delta variant.

Over several hours of discussion, members of the Food and Drug Administration panel of outside experts voiced frustration that Pfizer had provided little data on safety of extra doses.

And they complained that data provided by Israeli researchers about their booster campaign might not be suitable for predicting the U.S. experience.

Scientists inside and outside the government have been divided in recent days 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.

The panel, made up of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration, weighed a less than clear-cut case: 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 spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

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