Sept 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) on Friday backed a booster shot of the Pfizer
and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Americans
aged 65 and older, adults with underlying medical conditions
and adults in high-risk working and institutional settings.
The decision by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is aligned
with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authorization of
the shot earlier this week and follows an August announcement of
a broad booster rollout from her and other top U.S. health
The CDC recommendation cleared the way for booster shots to
start on Friday. One of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains,
Walgreens Boots Alliance, said on Friday that boosters
were available immediately for eligible individuals, and some
states such as Vermont said they would be available in their
vaccination centers. They will also be rolled out in long-term
Walensky's decision broke from a recommendation on Thursday
by a group of expert outside advisors to the agency who had said
that a narrower group of people should receive the extra shot.
The CDC director is not obliged to follow the advice of the
The panel specifically excluded people in high-risk jobs and
those in close living conditions on Thursday due in part to
concerns about a rare heart inflammation side effect that has
occurred primarily in younger men. They were also concerned the
recommendation would be too broad to implement effectively.
It recommended boosters for older people and some people
with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe
The authorization opens boosters to more than 20 million
people who received their second Pfizer shot more than six
The CDC on Thursday told its advisers that there would be no
requirements for people to submit documentation to prove that
they have the underlying conditions or work in at-risk settings.
Scientists have been divided over the need for COVID-19
vaccine boosters, with some including those from the FDA and the
World Health Organization saying there is inadequate evidence
that they are needed by anyone other than older people and that
more people around the world need a first dose of the vaccine
Pfizer and U.S. health officials have argued https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-looks-covid-19-boosters-curb-virus-spread-2021-09-15
that the shots prevent hospitalizations and deaths and that
emerging data indicates they can slow mild infections as well.
The highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus
has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States that
peaked on Sept. 1 and has since fallen about 25% to just over
120,000 cases per day, based on a 7-day moving average.
Walensky said her agency had to make recommendations based
on complex, often imperfect data.
"In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions
that we anticipate will do the greatest good," she said in a
'ANYONE CAN SHOW UP'
SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said he expects many of
the "worried well" to seek out booster shots in the coming weeks
because of the CDC's loose requirement on who is eligible.
"That literally means anyone can show up and say Im at an
increased risk of getting re-infected," Porges said.
The United States had authorized extra shots for those with
compromised immune systems last month and around 2.3 million
people have already received a third shot, according to the CDC.
Because the FDA has not yet considered Moderna's
application for boosters and Johnson & Johnson has not
yet applied for one, Pfizer is likely to benefit, he said.
Pfizer shares were down slightly on Friday, while Moderna
shares fell more than 3%.
Bernd Salzberger, head of infectiology at Regensburg
University Hospital in Germany, said given uncertainty over the
durability of protection, experts could easily come to different
conclusions over who should be eligible for boosters and when.
"The United States is currently undergoing a more severe
wave of infections than here because there are many more
unvaccinated in several states, mainly in the South. That could
be a reason for someone to say we must protect healthcare
workers in particular," Salzberger said.
The CDC said people 65 years and older should get a booster
and also recommended the shots for all adults over 50 with
underlying conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.
It said, based on individual benefits and risks, 18- to
49-year-olds with underlying medical conditions may get a
booster, and also people 18 to 64 at increased risk of exposure
and transmission due to occupational or institutional settings.
The CDC said about 26 million people would now be eligible
for a Pfizer/BioNTech booster, including 13 million aged 65 or
William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at
Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the shots will be
widely available under this policy.
"Im skeptical that locations will be overwhelmed, but there
may be some locations, particularly in high-income
neighborhoods, where they might get a lot of people interested,"
(Additional reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and
Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Mark
Porter and Bill Berkrot)