In an unusual move, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overruled an advisory panel’s recommendation that booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine be offered only to people over 65 and those with weakened immune systems, allowing them to also be offered to frontline workers, including nurses, teachers and supermarket staff.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s decision late Thursday appeared supportive of President Joe Biden, who had promised boosters of the vaccine developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.43% and German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -1.06% for all Americans starting this month, before he was persuaded to roll back that pledge over a lack of data to prove they are necessary.
On Friday, Biden urged those eligible to “go get the booster,” in a morning news conference.
The Food and Drug Administration complied with the recommendations of its advisory committee from last week to restrict booster shots to vulnerable groups for now. Getting unvaccinated Americans to get their first shots remains the top priority, and the CDC panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, as the Associated Press reported.
The World Health Organization has pushed for a moratorium on boosters until the rest of the world has gotten first doses and has repeatedly criticized wealthier countries for hogging supply.
On Friday, the Independent Allocation Vaccine Group (IAVG), which was set up by the WHO in January to oversee vaccine allocation under the Covax program, which aims to get vaccines to poorer countries, said it is still “very concerned” about the evolution of the pandemic, and the recent 25% reduction in the fourth-quarter supply forecast.
The forecast was cut because of global shortages, caused by richer countries failing to help poorer ones meet their vaccine goals. The fear is that allowing vast regions, including most of Africa, to remain unvaccinated could lead to new variants emerging that will prove resistant to vaccines.
“The IAVG continues to be concerned by the low supply of vaccines to Covax, and reiterates the need for manufacturers, vaccine producing and high-coverage countries to prioritize vaccine equity and transparency, the sharing of information about manufacturing capacity and supply schedules to Covax, as well as vaccine access plans,” the group said in a statement.
“While recognizing the need for additional doses to protect certain vulnerable, immune-compromised populations, the IAVG suggests countries collect and review more evidence before implementing policies regarding the administration of booster doses to their populations,” it added.
The U.S. is now averaging 2,036 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, the most since late February. Hospitalizations and daily new cases are also at their highest levels since winter and are mostly in unvaccinated people.
Alaska is seeing the highest number of new cases in the nation, measured on a per capita basis, the tracker shows, and hospitals are rationing care. Alaska has vaccinated just 50% of its population, below the national average of 55%, according to a CDC tracker.
In other news, the WHO recommended the monoclonal antibody developed by Regeneron /zigman2/quotes/203149337/composite REGN -0.43% as a treatment for COVID-19. The agency said the combination treatment can be used in COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of severe disease as well as in severe and critically ill COVID-19 patients who have not yet developed antibodies.