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CDC director signs off on COVID booster shot program after overruling advisory panel

CDC director signs off on COVID booster shot program after overruling advisory panel
Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has signed off a limited COVID-19 booster shot program on Thursday, overruling a panel of advisors.  

The plan endorses Pfizer booster shots for high-risk groups, including seniors over the age of 65, long-term care home residents, adults between 50-64 with underlying medical conditions, and adults working in hospitals, care homes, and other high-transmission settings.  

The program does not apply to those who have received the Moderna vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson one-shot COVID-19 vaccine.  

“While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world,” said Dr. Walensky.  

Recommendations from a CDC advisory panel on Thursday voted for booster shots for seniors, nursing home residents, and adults with medical conditions, but did not endorse the booster shots for those working in high-transmission settings, however, Walensky overruled the panel adding booster shots for those working in high-transmission settings into the program in a move that many have described as unusual.

“I am surprised that Dr. Walensky overturned one of the four A.C.I.P. votes today, and I believe others will be as well,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease expert and the American Academy of Pediatrics liaison to the ACIP, told The New York Times.  

Others disagree that Walensky made an unusual decision.  

“I wouldn’t characterize it as highly unusual or ‘overruling’ — it’s a tough spot to be in and the alternative was the FDA and CDC saying different things,” said Mayo Clinic Professor Vincent Rajkumar on Twitter. “This was a unique situation. It’s the kind of judgment call we want leaders to make. Otherwise, they would be rubber stamps.” 

The move comes as experts have debated if booster shots were necessary, as the three readily available vaccines remain highly effective at preventing serious complications or death from COVID-19.  

The Biden administration, however, accelerated the debate when they anticipated the widespread use of booster shots among Americans as early as September 20.  

“It will make you safer, and for longer, and it will help us end the pandemic faster,” Biden said in a speech at the White House last month. “This is no time to let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, and with confidence.” 

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