COVID experts say CDC, FDA guidance for vaccine boosters 'a mess'

Coronavirus vaccine

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Local COVID-19 experts said the new federal rules regarding COVID booster shots are unclear.

A confusing mess: that's how COVID-19 experts at Northwestern Medicine are describing the CDC and FDA guidance for vaccine booster shots.

Doctors said the rules about booster shots for patients over 65 and others in high risk categories are confusing patients, and that they are already getting phone calls from people who are worried about their eligibility.

One doctor said the booster rules will widen the equality gap in vaccine distribution, because there are more white people above the age of 65 and that Black and Latino people, who may be considered high risk for severe COVID, don't have health conditions that meet the new rules.

“My particular concern about this is equity, because when you say people over 65 will get this booster, you are disproportionately giving this to white people because there are more white people over the age of 65,” said Elizabeth McNally, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. “As a cardiologist, I know there are a lot of cardiovascular health problems between ages 40 to 65, particularly in people who are Black and Latinx and nonwhite populations. They suffer from hypertension, diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease — all things that increase your risks with COVID.

“The FDA is saying individuals 65 and older, and 18 to 64 at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 should get boosters. Right now, ‘high risk’ meant those who had an organ transplant or on immunosuppressant drugs or on cancer treatment. That’s who we’ve been giving boosters to so far. We need to extend boosters to younger people who have hypertension, diabetes, obesity and coronary artery disease – things that are relatively common."

Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, said the federal government should have told every patient who got the Pfizer vaccine to get a booster after six months instead of hammering out a list of age and health requirements.

“This booster approval process has been a mess,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern. “The CDC panel recommendation is even more restrictive than the FDA. This whole thing is a communication mess. They should have said people who had the Pfizer vaccine should receive the booster after six months and call it a day," Dr. Murphy said in a statement.

He added the CDC and FDA should have included those with high risk jobs, like education and health care, on their list of people eligible for boosters.

“It’s wrong that the CDC eliminated the high-risk jobs category for eligibility. We don’t want high risk-people such as health care workers getting sick; we need them safely working in the hospital. They are completely stressed out as it is. Hospitals and schools can’t afford to lose any more workers becoming ill," Dr. Murphy said.

“The fact that the FDA and CDC have conflicting messages makes it even more confusing. Can you imagine what the public will think about this? The CDC issues guidelines to the states. Which one are people going to believe? This is a communications mistake that will cause way more confusion than is necessary. I’ve already received eight calls from worried patients with a variety of underlying health problems concerned about getting a booster shot. I can only imagine what will happen tomorrow.”