The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a booster shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine late Wednesday after an internal advisory committee voted in support of them last week.
And on Thursday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group also voted in support of Pfizer booster shots for certain people following a two-day virtual meeting.
But to qualify, you must have initially received the Pfizer vaccine — leaving those who received the two-dose Moderna and one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines wondering when they can get an additional shot, too.
The CDC group voted in support of recommending Pfizer booster shots at least six months after the initial two doses for:
People ages 65 and older and nursing home residents
People ages 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
People ages 18-49 with underlying medical conditions based on their “individual benefit and risk”
But another group was later made eligible, too. Those ages 18-64 who face high risks of coronavirus infection at their workplace based on their “individual benefit and risk” also qualify for a Pfizer booster shot after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday overruled the group, which voted narrowly to not recommend the booster for those frontline workers.
The New York Times called it “a highly unusual decision” to overrule the advisory group, reporting that “the White House could begin promoting and rolling out a plan for booster shots as soon as Friday. That would be in keeping with the administration’s previously announced plan to offer the additional doses this week.”
Walensky said in a news release: “As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good. 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.”
President Joe Biden said during a Friday press briefing that 60 million people will eventually be able to get a booster shot under the new recommendations — including 20 million people who are currently eligible.
Walensky acknowledged the CDC only reviewed data on the Pfizer vaccine, but that the agency “will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as those data are available.”
Officials in the CDC advisory group said the benefits and risks of a third dose varies by age; people ages 65 and older “have the clearest benefit.” The CDC group did not vote on whether mixing and matching vaccines and boosters is safe or effective.
But some members of the CDC advisory group, however, expressed concern about the exclusion of those who received the Moderna or J&J shot. That includes Dr. Sarah Long, an infectious disease attending physician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Pennsylvania, who said “I just don’t understand how we can tell people 65 and older, ‘You’re at risk but only half of you can do anything about it right now.’”
And Dr. Eric Topol, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, said on Twitter that “we should give Pfizer boosters to Moderna/J&J who fit the high-risk criteria and collect the data! Likelihood of (that) happening........approaches zero.”
In the meantime, we should give Pfizer boosters to Moderna/J&J who fit the high-risk criteria and collect the data!
Likelihood of the happening........approaches zero.
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) September 23, 2021
During the CDC virtual meeting, an FDA expert chimed in and said Moderna has submitted data on its own booster shot.
Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, said the administration cannot provide a timeline on boosters for people who received the Moderna or J&J vaccine due to a lack of data.
Evidence shows immunity gained from a Pfizer vaccine wanes over time. That’s why federal health officials agreed boosters are to be administered at least six months after an eligible person receives their second dose, when vaccine protection begins to wane in some people, CDC officials said.
COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Pfizer booster shots are free for people in the U.S. and can be received on the same day as other vaccines.
The FDA only reviewed data on Pfizer booster doses among people who received the Pfizer vaccine for their first two doses, which is why boosters are not yet available for people who got the Moderna or J&J coronavirus vaccines.
“Studies on the interchangeability of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines are ongoing. However, we do not have enough data at this time to make a determination about the safety and effectiveness of ‘mixing and matching’ vaccines,” an FDA spokesperson told McClatchy News. “This data has not been submitted to the FDA at this time and FDA did not review data on the use of a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine following vaccination with other vaccines authorized by FDA for emergency use.”
Marks: “…but we’ll proceed with all due urgency to get there as rapidly as possible working with the various vaccine sponsors and available data to make a science-based decision.”
— Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) September 23, 2021
Immunocompromised people have been allowed to receive a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine since August. Current recommendations state their third dose should be the same vaccine as the one they got for their first two doses. A different vaccine can only be given if the original vaccine they received is unavailable.
The White House initially announced in August that it was recommending all adult Americans receive COVID-19 booster shots beginning the week of Sept. 20, at least eight months after receipt of their second dose.
More than 182.3 million Americans are fully vaccinated as of Sept. 22, about 55% of the population, according to a CDC tracker, including 99.7 million who have received the Pfizer vaccine.