Widespread Pfizer Booster Shots Were Just Rejected by an FDA Panel

'I don't think a booster dose is going to significantly contribute to controlling the pandemic.'
Brad Bergan
A syringe extracting a drug from a vial.busracavus / iStock

Most people may not need booster shots, after all.

A federal advisory panel of medical experts to the FDA has overwhelmingly rejected aims to provide widespread Pfizer booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to most U.S. citizens, in a serious blow to the administration of President Biden's struggle to maintain a coherent policy amid an ongoing pandemic, according to an initial report from AP News.

However, another imminent vote could still implement a third round of shots for older people and other at-risk groups.

FDA may still approve Pfizer booster shots for older US citizens

As a matter of votes from the committee of outside experts gathered by the Food and Drug Administration, the 16-2 result was unexpected, with some members apparently frustrated with the scarce data behind the presumed safety of extra doses. Others also expressed concern about the value of widespread booster shots, as opposed to ones implemented for specific at-need groups. And in a shocking decision, both the panel and the very leaders of the FDA suggested they would probably take a second vote on Friday afternoon on recommending Pfizer's booster shots for elderly citizens, in addition to other high-risk groups. If this happens and the vote is in favor of mass booster shots for the older citizens, this would help to salvage a portion of the White House's campaign, but either way, this is a colossal step back from the Biden administration's initial plan to provide booster shots of both Moderna and Pfizer to nearly all citizens roughly eight months after a second dose.

During hours upon hours of thorough debate on Friday, panel members began to question the value of offering booster shots to every person in the country. "I don't think a booster dose is going to significantly contribute to controlling the pandemic," said Tufts University's Cody Meissner, in the report. "And I think it's important that the main message we transmit is that we've got to get everyone two doses." The CDC's Amanda Cohn also said: "At this moment it is clear that the unvaccinated are driving transmisson in the United States." There were also complaints among panel members that available data from Israeli researchers regarding the booster campaign implemented there may not have direct relevance for the way a booster campaign would go in the U.S.

COVID-19 vaccines lose effect over time

And, recently, scientists both inside and outside the government have become divided on the perceived necessity of booster shots for COVID-19, in addition to who should receive them. Even the World Health Organization has strongly objected to well-off nations providing a third round of costly shots to its citizens, especially when so many poor countries lack enough supplies to provide an initial immunization round to their people.

One continuing issue comes from evidence pointing to a weakening effect of the vaccine's effectiveness over time. This is why booster shots were suggested in the first place by experts who stress that Pfizer remains highly protective against severe illness and death, even when triggered by the contraction of the extra-contagious delta variant. As of writing, some U.S. citizens have already received booster shots (sometimes just by showing up and asking for one), and there exist health systems that are already offering third doses to high-risk people. Time will tell whether this becomes the official norm in the coming weeks.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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