CDC Expert Panel Meeting on Who Gets Pfizer Vaccine Booster

Scientific advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting Wednesday and Thursday to decide which Americans sho...


Scientific advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting Wednesday and Thursday to decide which Americans should receive booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine – and when.

Committee discussions are normally a scientific matter of little interest to most people. But this meeting is likely to be closely watched – the stakes are high. It follows a dramatic exchange at the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, when advisers overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to offer recalls of Pfizer for Americans over 16, but then voted unanimously in favor of third doses for some high-risk people and those over 65.

The role of CDC advisers during the two-day meeting is to decide who belongs to these high-risk groups. Depending on their verdict, booster shots could be offered to most Americans – or only a few.

On Wednesday, the discussion focused on types of immunity. Natalie Thornburg, a CDC scientist, presented the results of a series of studies suggesting that lowering antibody levels may have little impact on protection against serious disease. Certain subsets of antibodies are needed to prevent infection, but the immune cells that prevent the disease from progressing are stable, she said.

“Antibodies decrease over time as expected, in all age groups, but cellular memory is maintained,” she said. Immunity is known to drop in adults over 80, suggesting that boosters may be needed for this age group.

If the FDA allows the Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose for certain high-risk groups and the elderly, CDC advisers will vote on Thursday to make their recommendations. But it will likely be too late for the Biden administration, which had planned to start offering third dose this week most fully immunized adults in the United States.

At Friday’s meeting, senior scientists from Pfizer and the Israeli Ministry of Health presented data that they said indicates decreased immunity in people who received the Pfizer vaccine months earlier. Strengthening the immune system with a third injection made a difference in Israel, they said, and could stem the tide of infections in the United States.

FDA advisers also evaluated CDC data on the trajectory of the virus in the United States, as well as summaries of several studies on vaccine effectiveness.

But after reviewing the evidence, the committee’s scientists concluded that although protection against infection may wane, especially in the elderly, the original two-shot regimen still provides excellent protection against serious illness and l hospitalization in most people.

“It is not clear that everyone needs strengthening except for a subset of the population who would clearly be at high risk for serious illness,” said Dr Michael G. Kurilla , committee member and head of the National Institutes of Health.

A key difference between Israel and the United States may explain why the two countries have had different experiences with the vaccine: countries define severe disease differently.

In Israel, anyone with an accelerated respiratory rate and an oxygen level below 94% is seriously ill. In contrast, the CDC reserves this category for people sick enough to be hospitalized, said Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC scientist who presented the US data.

Some experts on the committee said they also didn’t feel comfortable offering booster shots to young people who might not need them, when the risks of a third dose are unknown.

Vaccines have been linked to rare cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, in young people. The risk is very low and studies have shown that Covid-19 is much more likely to cause disease.

Last week brought further research to support the FDA committee’s decision, including an article by an international team of scientists who analyzed dozens of studies and concluded that the world would be better served by using vaccine doses to protect the billions who go unvaccinated.

The authors of that study included the FDA’s two top vaccine experts, who announced their intention to leave the agency this fall. Their departure is in part to protest the pressure from the Biden administration for boosters before scientists and federal regulators examined the evidence.

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Newsrust - US Top News: CDC Expert Panel Meeting on Who Gets Pfizer Vaccine Booster
CDC Expert Panel Meeting on Who Gets Pfizer Vaccine Booster
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