FDA OKs Pfizer COVID booster for 65 and over, those at high risk


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late Sept. 22 granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for those over the age of 65 and a wide swath of Americans at higher risk for infection.

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The agency’s move comes as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel ended the first day of a 2-day meeting. That panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), is expected to vote Sept. 23 to instruct doctors on how to administer the boosters.

The FDA officially authorized the vaccine not only for individuals 65 and older, but also for people 18 through 64 years of age who are at high risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, including essential workers whose jobs increase their risk for infection.

“After considering the totality of the available scientific evidence and the deliberations of our advisory committee of independent, external experts, the FDA amended the EUA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to allow for a booster dose in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and daycare staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, said in a news release.

The recommendations align with those from an FDA advisory panel Sept. 17.

The agency determined that the benefits of a booster dose outweigh the risks for people now authorized to receive it, according to the news release.

Other questions remain

So, how will this work? That was the main question weighing on the minds of the CDC’s ACIP during their first day of a 2-day meeting where they are expected to make recommendations on booster doses for Americans.

The panel discussed situations the FDA will still need to consider, such as what should be done for Americans who were originally vaccinated with a Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but are not covered under the revised EUA, which is only for those people who received Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine regimen.

“That’s going to leave half of the people immunized in this age group having received the vaccine and being told that they’re at risk now for waning immunity and hospitalization unable to get a booster dose,” said committee member Sarah S. Long, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. “So that’s a big public health panic that we would like to avoid.”

Johnson and Johnson recently reported that second doses of its vaccine boosted its efficacy to almost 94% against COVID-19. A new study, published ahead of peer review, suggests that the efficacy of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson shot has fallen to about 78% against symptomatic infection during the Delta surge.

Moderna has applied for permission to market third doses of its vaccine in the United States, but the FDA has given no timeline on when it might make a decision.

Doran Fink, MD, PhD, deputy director of the FDA’s Division of Vaccines and Related Products Applications, a representative advising the committee Sept. 22, said the agency was working as rapidly as possible on Moderna’s submission.

Regarding the question of whether it was OK to mix vaccines, rather than match them, Dr. Fink said there are currently not enough data available to inform that decision.

Those answers are coming, though. John Beigel, MD, associate director of clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed that the federal government has a study underway to see what happens when the vaccines are mixed with each other.

He said that data from the study would be available later this fall, and would certainly help physicians and other healthcare providers know whether it’s effective or safe to use them interchangeably.


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