C.D.C. Panel Set to Meet on Pfizer and Moderna Boosters for All Adults

It comes just as Americans are preparing to spend holidays with family and friends, gatherings likely to add to rising rates of new cases.,


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A C.D.C. panel endorses Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters for all adults.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top Covid adviser, during a Senate committee hearing this month.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Nov. 19, 2021Updated 3:42 p.m. ET

Scientific advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday unanimously endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for all adults, a move that brings tens of millions fully vaccinated adults a step closer to a third shot.

Boosters would be recommended six months after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. If Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, formally accepts the recommendation, as she typically does, boosters would be available this weekend, allowing many Americans who want one to get the shot before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The new recommendations say everyone 50 and older — most of whom have other risk factors — as well as those 18 and older living in long-term care facilities “should” get a booster. Others who are 18 and older “may” opt for one if they wish, based on individual risk and benefit. Several advisers said at the meeting that they hoped the simpler age-based guidelines would ease some of the confusion around who is eligible for the extra shots.

These recommendations align with President Biden’s promise that all adults would be eligible for extra doses.

Desperate to dampen even a dim echo of last winter’s horrors, the Biden administration is betting that booster shots will shore up what some have characterized as waning immunity among the fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for all adults on Friday.

In recent days, several states have broadened booster access to all adults on their own. Addressing the panelists, Dr. Sam Posner, the acting director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, acknowledged that previous eligibility categories “were complicated to implement,” and hoped that simplifying it to all adults “will reduce confusion.”

Research suggests that the shots may help forestall at least some infections, particularly in older adults and those with certain health conditions.

After an all too brief respite, coronavirus infections are inching up again, particularly in parts of the country where cooler weather is hustling people indoors.

At the C.D.C. panel meeting, Dr. Doran Fink, a key F.D.A. regulator, said that the impact of broadening booster eligibility would be clear “on the individual level,” offering protection against breakthrough cases of Covid-19. But he said the “greatest impact on a population level is still dependent on increasing vaccine uptake among” the unvaccinated.

The C.D.C.’s decision will land just as Americans are preparing to spend the holidays with family and friends. Given the roughly 100 million Americans who have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, holiday travel and get-togethers could send cases skyrocketing, as they did last year.

During a presentation, Dr. Sara Oliver, a C.D.C. scientist, said that while protection from a booster against asymptomatic infection may not be permanent, even temporary protection might help contain the virus ahead of the winter holidays, increased travel and indoor gatherings.

At a news conference as the C.D.C. panel meeting got underway, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, praised the moves “to further protect Americans, especially as we enter the winter months.”

With the virus still spreading, she acknowledged that many are exhausted by the pandemic. “What we can do is encourage action,” she said, urging eligible Americans to get their boosters.

Several European countries are also offering boosters to all adults in a bid to contain fresh waves of infections. France has gone so far as to mandate booster shots for those over age 65 who wish to get a health pass permitting access to public venues.

What to Know About Covid Vaccines and Boosters

Kids’ Vaccines F.A.Q.: Children aged 5 to 11 in the U.S. are now eligible. Here are answers to some common questions about kids and the vaccine.How to Get Your Child a Vaccine: Looking to make an appointment for your child? It may take a little patience.A Guide to Boosters for Adults: Here’s what we know about booster shots, including why you may need one and when you should get it.Mix-and-Match: You can switch vaccines when choosing a booster shot, and the science behind the strategy is promising.How the Vaccines Work: From messenger RNA to adenovirus-based vaccines, this is how nine of the leading shots fight the virus.

“Look what other countries are doing now about adopting a booster campaign virtually for everybody,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top Covid adviser, said at a conference on Tuesday. “I think if we do that, and we do it in earnest, I think by the spring we can have pretty good control of this.”

But many experts, including some who advise federal agencies, are skeptical that boosters alone can turn the tide. While the extra shots can strengthen immunity in older adults, they are unlikely to offer much benefit to adults under 65, who remain protected from severe illness and hospitalization by the initial immunization, the experts said.

It is also unclear whether booster shots can significantly slow the spread of the virus. The limited evidence available suggests that vaccines can blunt transmission, but only to a limited extent and for a limited period.

Many pandemic-weary Americans, too, seem unmoved by the administration’s push for boosters. More than 85 percent of the adult population is already eligible, but only about 17 percent has chosen to get them. And those may not be the people most in need of extra protection.

As with the initial shots, fully vaccinated white people are more likely to have lined up for a booster shot, compared with other racial and ethnic groups, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Oliver later noted that recommendations that are complex, or hard to communicate or implement could exacerbate disparities in booster rates.

So far, the people who have opted for boosters “tend to be of higher socioeconomic status and more highly educated, and have more access in general to medical care,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center.

“That’s not necessarily who’s actually at risk of severe disease, hospitalization or death, and so I think you’re going to have limited public health impact.”

Noah Weiland and Dan Levin contributed reporting.

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