The path has been cleared for COVID vaccine booster shots for millions of Americans. A CDC panel endorsed Pfizer booster shots for older people Thursday but split with the FDA's approval on a key issue: It didn't recommend booster shots for workers, including teachers and healthcare workers, whose occupations put them at higher risk of exposure, the Washington Post reports. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, however, overruled the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel late Thursday and recommended booster shots for frontline workers between the ages of 18 and 64. The New York Times describes Walensky's move as "highly unusual."
"As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a statement, per the AP. "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.” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, the American Academy of Pediatrics liaison to the panel, tells the Times that Walensky's decision is surprising, but the panel's vote on the issue was close and she agrees with the move.
Walensky endorsed the three decisions that the panel did vote in favor of: boosters for people over 65, nursing home residents, and people with underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk. The White House is expected to roll out a plan for booster shots as soon as Friday. Officials say the third shots will be offered to eligible people whose last shot was at least six months ago. The CDC says that after booster shots are introduced, people who have received two vaccine doses and qualify for a third will be considered fully vaccinated whether they get a booster shot or not. More than 2 million immunocompromised Americans have already received extra vaccine doses, Politico notes. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)