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Are Booster Vaccines Widely Needed?

Following an endorsement set refereed by professionals and scientific panels encouraging federal agencies over the last month, the huge number of Americans are now properly eligible for coronavirus vaccine booster shots.

In the last weeks of interviews, many advisors to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and Food and Drug Administration showed the data mentioning that except adults over age 65, the vast majority of Americans are already well protected against critical illness or sickness and do not require booster shots.

All the professional advisers supported and acknowledged the obligation to make difficult choices, based on their sparse research and analysis, in the middle of a public health emergency, but some said they felt forced to vote for the booster shots because of how the federal agencies drafted the questions.

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A member of the C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and a pediatric infectious disease expert at Drexel University College of Medicine, Dr. Sarah S. Long said, “These are not evidence-based recommendations”.

After the vote series, the official position of the C.D.C. and  F.D.A now is that among those who received an mRNA vaccine, or people with certain medical conditions, or older adults, or those whose jobs and living situations expose them regularly to the harmful virus, can opt for a booster dose of any of the three vaccines. 

A member of the C.D.C. advisory committee and senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Dr. Matthew Daley, said, “I don’t think we have evidence that everybody in groups needs a booster vaccine today”.


On Thursday, Dr. Daley and Dr. Long both took a pause and decided to vote in favor of booster shots at their committee’s meeting, but with reservations over how this decision would be viewed by anxious and concerned Americans who might assume or conclude mistakenly that the vaccines are ineffective in nature.

In September, when the members of the C.D.C. committee examined and reviewed the evidence for the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, the experts admitted unanimously only on extra shots for over the age of 65 adults. The result was not shocking as most of the members agreed on, except 2 of the 15 panelists who voted against booster doses for adults over age 50 with specific medical conditions.

Booster approvals for people aged between 18 to 49 with a factor of other medical risks got passed by a vote of 9 to 6. Booster recommendation for individual people whose professions put them at risk of having a virus did not pass. That last section was added in the last C.D.C. recommendations or support only because the talented agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, overruled her advisers.

A member of the F.D.A.’s vaccine advisory committee and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital,  Dr. Paul Offit, said, “You can see the hesitancy in all this. It’s just because, in our hearts, I believe people don’t really agree with this  booster dose notion.” Dr. Offit added, “The door only grew bigger and bigger and bigger; it got deeper and wider with each and every step. The organizations got what they ever wanted, and the administration got what they wanted.” 

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In the interviews, the experts mentioned limited data on the efficacy and safety of the booster shots. The data supporting extra doses of the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines was “of very low quality.” On Thursday, C.D.C. scientist Dr. Kathleen Dooling acknowledged this at the committee meeting.

However, many said people thought they should vote in support of booster shots of the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines because people had previously approved and recommended boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and did not want to dismiss other Americans. A member of the F.D.A. advisory committee and a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Cody Meissner, said, “The difficulty that bothered me a lot is that we don’t understand if boosters are necessary.” But “if you are going do it for 1 group, I hold fairness set of dictates you ought to do it for all the associations and groups.”

In interviews, panelists were reluctant to tell their discomfort, assuming they did not need to undermine the last arrangements and decisions of the committees.

But some panelists that not wish to converse on the report spoke privately that the last recommendations for booster shots were inevitable as soon as President Biden encouraged them to all adults. Dr. Long replied to one of the few to publicly express her unhappiness, “We are in a challenging position to do enough of anything than what everybody has previously announced and declared that we have done.” 

Dr. Kotton said, “Through no deliberate responsibility of anyone, the messaging has been challenging — and then there is a lot of misinformation circulated, which is tragic.”

For the approval to give booster vaccine, some of the professionals said federal agencies and their advisers may have given Americans the impression that two doses were not protective enough.


Edited by Anupama Roy

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