CDC Chief Vetoes Advisors: Health Care Workers Can Get Booster Shots

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In a highly unusual move, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, overruled the agency’s panel of experts, saying that health care workers should get COVID-19 booster shots.

Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the early hours today overruled a CDC advisory panel’s decision to deny COVID-19 booster shots to health care workers and other frontline workers. In doing so, Walensky rejected a decision made by her own panel of experts—the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—who earlier yesterday said health care workers shouldn’t get the Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots. Instead, Walensky sided with an expert panel working for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that said on Wednesday that health care workers should be included.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD

Walensky said in a statement issued shortly after midnight that “I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19. This aligns with the FDA's booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.”

The CDC did suggest that booster shots be made available to:

  • Individuals 65 years or older and long-term care residents at least 6 months after the primary series under the FDA’s emergency use authorization (EAU).
  • Individuals 50-64 years old with underlying medical conditions at least 6 months after the primary series under the FDA’s EAU.
  • Individuals 18-49 years old with underlying medical conditions at least 6 months after the primary series under the FDA’s EAU.

That differs only slightly from what the FDA panel said on Wednesday. The FDA panel said that the booster shots should be made available to:

  • Individuals 65 or older.
  • Individuals 18 through 64 years old who are deemed at high risk for infection
  • Individuals 18 through 64 years old with jobs that put them at risk, such as health care workers.

Walensky said in her statement that “as CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

Walensky’s statement echoes the statement issued Wednesday by Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD. Woodcock said that “after considering the totality of the available scientific evidence and the deliberations of our advisory committee of independent, external experts, the FDA amended the EUA [emergency use authorization] for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to allow for a booster dose in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others.”

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