After a confusing week of mixed messaging and conflicting opinions from the public health officials advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), late Thursday night CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced her decision to recommend COVID booster vaccines for adults over 65, residents of long-term care facilities, and those younger than 65 with underlying medical conditions.
Controversially, Dr. Walensky contradicted the CDC’s own Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) by also recommending that people who are at greater risk of COVID exposure due to occupation or institutional setting—including healthcare workers and teachers—receive a booster shot. Earlier Thursday, ACIP members voted down a recommendation to provide boosters to healthcare workers, despite the FDA’s endorsement of that approach earlier in the week.
By Friday morning, President Biden announced he would soon get a booster shot himself, urging those eligible to do so, and re-emphasizing the administration’s primary focus on delivering first doses to those still unvaccinated. There will be more to come on boosters: the FDA and CDC guidance only applies to those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago; boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still under review.
This week’s saga caps a month of back-and-forth between public health officials, the White House, and the medical community, following Biden’s August promise—considered by many to be premature—that boosters would be broadly available starting September 20th. The inclusion of healthcare workers in the booster campaign is welcome news; we were flummoxed by ACIPs decision to bypass that critical segment, given mounting hospital staffing shortages amid the surging Delta variant.
More broadly, we’re increasingly distressed by the relatively uncoordinated and poorly-managed communication approach of the Biden administration on vaccines—particularly following a campaign in which competence was touted as a key advantage over the previous administration.