Sep 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

CDC director maintains Pfizer booster recommendation for high-risk workers

Rochelle Walensky listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Rochelle Walensky listens during a confirmation hearing on July 20. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky on Friday reiterated her decision to go against a recommendation by a CDC advisory panel that refused to endorse booster shots for workers whose jobs put them at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Driving the news: "Our healthcare systems are once again at maximum capacity in parts of the country, our teachers are facing uncertainty as they walk into the classroom," Walensky said at a Friday briefing. "I must do what I can to preserve the health across our nation."

  • In an unusual move, Walensky on Thursday went against the CDC advisory panel recommendation, and endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for workers in high-risk jobs.

What she's saying: "It's my job to recognize where out actions can have the greatest impact. In a pandemic we most often take steps with the intention to do the greatest good, even in an uncertain environment, and that is what I'm doing with these recommendations."

  • "Had I been in the room and on the committee, I would have voted yes, and that is reflected in my resulting decision to allow the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster dose for those 18 and older at high risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational and institutional exposure," Walensky said.

Between the lines: Walensky said on Friday that she did not "overrule" the advisory committee, adding that she "intently listened to this exceptional group of scientists that publicly and very transparently deliberated for hours over some of these very difficult questions."

The big picture: The CDC on Thursday also recommended Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older and those individuals at high risk of severe COVID-19.

  • The CDC approval is a near-final step in making the booster shots available to millions of Americans, and comes one day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups.

What to watch: The FDA is working with Moderna and J&J to obtain and receive data, "with a goal of making booster recommendations for the Moderna and J&J recipients in the coming weeks," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

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

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