By the end of the week, the Food and Drug Administration will be ready to approve the Pfizer booster for anyone aged 18 or over who has already been vaccinated.
NOEL KÖNIG, HOST:
Two federal health authorities are independently examining a big question. Should All American Adults Get COVID Booster Vaccinations? This week the FDA is expected to approve the Pfizer booster vaccination for anyone ages 18 and older, and CDC advisors are considering whether to give boosters to all adults too. MediaFrolic health correspondent Rob Stein is closely following this report. Good morning, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Tomorrow, Noel.
KING: OK, so two agencies have answers to that question. What is expected here?
STEIN: The FDA is expected to comply with Pfizer’s request to approve its vaccine as a booster shot for any adult who has been fully vaccinated for at least six months. You know, the Pfizer booster was already available to anyone aged 65 and over who is at high risk of COVID-19 due to other health problems or because of their work or life situation. But this would officially open up eligibility for anyone who is at least 18 years old. We’re talking about tens of millions more people who could go to their local CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart, for example, for an extra chance. Again, advisors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet this week, and both authorities will have to opt out in order to expand the availability of the Pfizer booster.
KING: And why do health authorities consider this expansion of the boosters necessary?
STEIN: The eligibility for a booster is already so broad that around 2 out of 3 fully vaccinated people already meet the criteria for a booster, and almost 31 million people have already done so. But millions more don’t officially qualify, which has led some people to bypass the rules to get boosters. Others have held back because they are not necessarily entitled. And it frustrates some so much that a growing number of states like California, Colorado, and New Mexico have gone their own way to bring boosters for all the adults they want. So this would standardize the eligibility nationwide and perhaps remove some confusion.
KING: And what is the main scientific argument in favor of boosters, Rob?
STEIN: You know, a lot of experts say it is crucial to do whatever you can to get people’s immunity as good as possible, especially as there is mounting evidence that protection from vaccines is waning and breakthrough infections have increased. especially since the highly contagious delta variant has soared and right now in this country when the delta variant starts to rise again just in winter and people, you know, are going to travel and meet for the holidays. And many experts say that vaccinated people should be able to do whatever it takes to protect themselves, especially when in places with lots of unmasked, unvaccinated people. And Pfizer says a study of 10,000+ volunteers showed a third shot would increase protection from COVID-19 well into the 1990s.
KING: Okay, that’s pretty impressive, but I can imagine there are different voices here. There are people who say we are concerned about the increase in eligibility.
STEIN: Yes, yes, yes, definitely. This has been the subject of some really intense debate. It’s pretty clear that some people definitely need boosters, such as: However, in younger, otherwise healthy people, the need for boosters is less clear. Does every 18 and 19 year old, everyone between 20 and 30 really need a booster? Don’t forget that the vaccine can cause a rare side effect, dangerous heart inflammation, especially in younger men. And many experts say we should focus on vaccinating the unvaccinated instead, both in this country and around the world.
KING: What’s the chronology here? What’s next week
STEIN: After the FDA approves the booster, the CDC advisors will meet on Friday to make recommendations to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, which Pfizer boosters would then have to sign off for anyone aged 18 and over. But it looks like now, you know, it might be this weekend.
KING: OK, MediaFrolic health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks, Rob.
STEIN: You can bet on that, Noel.
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