Sep 23, 2021 - Health

CDC director approves Pfizer boosters, adds eligibility for high-risk workers

Pfizer covid doses

Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Driving the news: But in an unusual move, CDC director Rochelle Walensky late Thursday overruled part of the advisory committee's decision and said that workers in high-risk jobs should also be eligible for booster shots.

Why it matters: The approval was a near-final step in making the booster shots available to tens of millions of Americans, and comes a day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups.

  • An FDA panel had also approved boosters for people ages 18 to 64 "whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure" puts them at high risk for contracting the virus. The CDC panel, however, voted down this recommendation.

The big picture: The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel was tasked with determining who should get a third dose, such as which jobs qualify as high risk, per the New York Times.

What they're saying: "Like you, I am approaching this decision with an interest in doing what is right for public health," CDC director Rochelle Walensky told the panel ahead of deliberations, per the Washington Post.

  • "Collectively, we want to do what is right for the millions of Americans over the age of 65 or in long-term care facilities who are at high risk for severe complications of COVID-19," she added.

President Biden in a speech Friday encouraged those eligible to get their booster shot as soon as possible, though he stressed that ineligible Americans who have been vaccinated are still protected against the virus.

  • More broadly, he said unvaccinated Americans need to get their first doses to help curb the pandemic.

State of play: The White House had hoped to begin administering boosters to many Pfizer recipients, including young Americans, on Sept. 20.

  • This week, the FDA advisory panel voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information throughout.

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