PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An FDA committee has voted against recommending a widespread booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine, but then it quickly approved it for select groups of at-risk people.
The committee initially voted down a booster shot for the general population over the age of 16 that would be administered six months after the second dose. Panelists reworked the wording and came back for another vote, recommending an emergency use authorization for a Pfizer booster for people 65 and older and anyone at high risk of contracting severe COVID-19.
They agreed it should also cover health care workers and others at high risk of occupational exposure.
Committee member Dr. Paul Offit said the data on benefits and risks for younger people just isn’t there yet.
On the initial booster question, Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, summed up the thoughts shared by several other committee members: The goal from the start was to protect against serious illness and death, and the vaccines have been incredibly successful at that.
Offit said while a booster could limit asymptomatic and mild infection, he doesn’t think it would have much of an effect on what he calls the arc of the pandemic.
“Certainly, we all agree that if we really want to impact this pandemic, [we] need to vaccinate the unvaccinated,” he said, meaning the first shot is more important than the third at this point.
At the start of the panel discussion, it was made clear this was about the science of a booster, not about global vaccine equality or operational issues.
As for the part that the FDA panel did approve, Dr. Amanda Cohn with the CDC said people 65 and older were the first to get vaccinated in December and January and could benefit the most from a booster.
The vote is only a recommendation. The FDA is not bound by it but generally follows the panel's lead.
"We have been closely watching the published reports and discussions on the utility of COVID booster doses," said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement.
"Today's meeting of outside experts, and their recommendation to allow people over the age of 65 and at high risk for severe COVID to be given a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine six months after they completed the two-dose series, is the first step in this process. We are eagerly awaiting to hear from the FDA and CDC on when we can begin administering booster doses. In the meantime, being fully vaccinated against COVID is still the best protection against severe COVID disease and death and we encourage everyone in Philadelphia who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible."