CDC Director Recognizes Confusion Over COVID-19 Booster Vaccines – Reason.com


“I recognize that confusion,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Sunday, asked by CBS News Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan about messaging discrepancies around COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

President Joe Biden has been urging Americans to get a booster vaccine. But who exactly that applies to is unclear.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week authorized Pfizer booster shots for people ages 65 and older, younger people “at high risk of severe COVID-19,” and anyone “whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19.”

Then, a CDC advisory panel largely echoed the FDA’s advice but disagreed about the necessity of a booster for people in certain jobs or institutional settings.

But Walensky stepped in and contradicted the CDC panel’s recommendation. Per her advice, those with high-risk jobs or living situations should get a booster.

“Where there was some real scientific discussion and a scientific close call was for those people who are at high risk by virtue of where they live or where they work,” she told Face the Nation yesterday:

Because of that close call and because of all the evidence we reviewed both at the FDA and at the CDC, I felt it was appropriate for those people to also be eligible for boosters. So, who are those people? Those are people who live and work in high-risk settings, that includes people in homeless shelters, people in group homes, people in prisons, but also, importantly, are people who work with vulnerable communities. So, our health care workers, our teachers, our grocery workers, our public transportation employees.

On Friday, Biden said:

If you got the Pfizer vaccine in January, February, March of this year and you’re over 65 years of age, go get the booster. Or if you have a medical condition like diabetes, or you’re a front-line worker, like a health care worker or a teacher, you can get a free booster now. I’ll be getting my booster shot, it’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot.

Biden also said his administration was still “looking to the time when we’re going to be able to expand the booster shots, basically, across the board.”

The science may very well show that the rest of the population needs to be boosted, and we will provide those guidances as soon as we have the science to inform them,” Walensky said yesterday.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Face the Nation that for “people below the age of 50 who are otherwise healthy, I think it’s an open question right now.…The data isn’t strong to support the question either way.”

And, for now, none of this discussion or the recommendations apply to people who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. “FDA is working closely with Moderna and J&J to get and process their data as quickly as possible, with a goal of making booster recommendations for Moderna and J&J recipients in the coming weeks,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on Friday.

All in all, it’s added up to a lot of confusion—even among doctors and health care workers—about who should get a COVID-19 booster vaccine and when. The definition of “high risk” seems especially malleable.

“Who’s at high risk? I had to look it up. Is it firemen? I don’t know,” David Peterman, CEO of Idaho’s Primary Health Medical Group, told The Washington Post. “This is so confusing to the public and creates mistrust. And we can’t have that right now. Right now, we need the public to say, ‘Let’s get vaccinated.’ And for those that need boosters, we need to say that ‘This is safe, and this is what we need to do.'”


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