Public health authorities in the US have backed Covid-19 vaccine booster doses for Americans aged 65 and older, some adults with underlying medical conditions and some adults in high-risk working and institutional settings.
The decision overrules an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control that on Thursday did not recommend that people in high-risk jobs, such as teachers, and risky living conditions should get boosters. The panel had recommended boosters for elderly and some people with underlying medical conditions.
The CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, said her agency had to make recommendations based on complex, often imperfect data, saying in a statement:
In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good. I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to Covid-19. This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorisation and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.
The recommendation follows Food and Drug Administration authorisation and clears the way for booster dose distribution to begin as soon as this week.
The CDC said that people 65 years and older should get a booster. Beyond older Americans, the CDC also recommended the shots for all adults over 50 with underlying conditions.
It said that, based on individual benefits and risks, 18- to 49-year-olds with underlying medical conditions may get a booster, and people 18-64 at increased risk of exposure and transmission due to occupational or institutional setting may get a shot.
The recommendations only cover people who received their second Pfizer/BioNTech shot at least six months earlier. The CDC said that group is about 26 million people, including 13 million aged 65 or older.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had on Thursday given the thumbs down to additional doses for groups including healthcare workers, teachers and residents of homeless shelters and prisons.
Panel member Lynn Bahta, who works with the Minnesota Department of Health, voted against that measure. She said the data does not support boosters in that group yet. “The science shows that we have a really effective vaccine,” she said.
The committee had said it could revisit the guidance later.
More than 180 million people in the US are fully vaccinated, or about 64% of the eligible population.