The CDC panel guidelines followed weeks of internal disagreements and public debates between American health officials and advisors. In mid-August, President Biden announced plans for a booster launch, but scientists and regulators were quick to point out that there was little research on who could benefit from it and how the doses should be distributed.
Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Wednesday that the agency’s approval would allow for booster doses “in certain populations such as health workers, teachers and day care workers, food workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others.”
However, some members of the committee said there was little evidence that vaccinated teachers and even health care workers were at risk of repeated exposure to the virus. The decision reflected fears that such a broad recommendation would open the doors to a booster campaign for all adults.
“I got the feeling that the committee felt like this was some kind of hole you could drive a truck through,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Board, told reporters at an online briefing Thursday.
Over the two days, the panel struggled with public expectations for Covid vaccines, the safety of the third dose, and the impact of a booster program on nursing home residents. Some scientists found that booster doses alone would not turn back the pandemic: only vaccinating the unvaccinated would do that.
“We can move the needle a little bit by giving people a booster dose,” said Dr. Helen Talbot, Associate Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. But she added, “The hospitals are full because people aren’t vaccinated.”
The consultants also struggled with ambiguities regarding the goal of the vaccines: Should it be to prevent all infections or to prevent serious illnesses and hospital stays?