FDA Recommends COVID Vaccine Booster Shots for Ages 65 and Up, but Not Younger People

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A Food and Drug Administration panel voted against recommending that all Americans who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine begin getting a third booster shot, instead approving them for only those aged 65 and up and people who are at high risk.

The scientific advisory committee at the FDA voted 16 to 2 against booster shots for everyone aged 16 and up, after spending Friday debating if they were yet necessary to protect against COVID-19. In their decision, the panel determined that a full course of the vaccines is still highly effective in preventing severe illness or hospitalization.

The panel did, though, unanimously approve booster shots for those aged 65 and up and for people at a higher risk of severe COVID-19.

"It's unclear that everyone needs to be boosted, other than a subset of the population that clearly would be at high risk for serious disease," Dr. Michael G. Kurilla, a committee member and official at the National Institutes of Health, said, according to The New York Times.

The decision is counter to the Biden administration's plans, which had been to begin offering COVID-19 booster shots to all Pfizer recipients next week. Currently, only those who are immunocompromised have been approved to receive a third dose.

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The FDA panel recommended that the elderly and those at high risk should get their booster shot six months after they were fully vaccinated.

Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control will need to approve the recommendation before it is enacted, though they tend to follow the panel's recommendations. The CDC is also considering approving the booster shots for front-line health care workers, who started getting their first doses in December.

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The FDA panel had reviewed recent studies on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against the delta variant and the effect of booster shots on people in Israel, which rolled out third doses in July. Some on the panel questioned if Israel's experience was comparable to the U.S., and how a third dose would affect younger people with stronger immune systems, the Associated Press reported.

In August, the World Health Organization argued that the world's "wealthiest countries" should not start giving out booster shots until those with less access to the COVID-19 vaccines have been able to start vaccinating their populations, or at least until the end of September.

As of Sept. 17, 63.4% of the U.S. population — or 210,700,361 people — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 54.2% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Of the population that is eligible for the vaccine, those aged 12 and up, 74.2% have received at least one dose and 63.5% are fully vaccinated.

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