FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for people aged 65+, high risk people

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WASHINGTON (AP) — An influential federal advisory panel is recommending Pfizer booster shots for people who are 65 and older, and people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration panel green lighted boosters for vulnerable people after rejecting a plan to offer Pfizer booster shots to all Americans 16 and older.

The 16-2 vote Friday to reject boosters for all adults was a blow to the Biden administration's plan to shore up people's protection against the virus amid the highly contagious Delta variant.

Over several hours of discussion, members of the FDA panel of outside experts voiced frustration that Pfizer had provided little data on safety of extra doses for all Americans. They complained that data provided by Israeli researchers about their booster campaign might not be suitable for predicting the U.S. experience.

"The FDA right now is considering a lot of different data that's out there, and so much like COVID where we learn new things every day, every week, every month -- the vaccines and boosters are no exception to that," said Joseph McBride, assistant professor of adult and pediatric infectious disease at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

McBride said there are two factors to consider when it comes to boosters.

"One is: Did people respond appropriately after the first two or do they need another kick? And then the other question is: Maybe someone responded after those first two but their immunity begins to wane," he said.

A small percentage of people who are immunocompromised have been eligible for a third vaccine dose of Pfizer or Moderna for several weeks. That includes people receiving cancer treatments, people who received an organ transplant or a stem cell treatment, people with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency, people with HIV and people who are taking corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress their immune responses.

As doctors see more breakthrough cases, Hayat Pharmacy has more interest in third doses and boosters.

"People who are like in the gray area: 'Oh, I'm not completely immunocompromised. I have diabetes. Do I qualify?' We get those questions all the time and we usually just tell them to wait until we get authorization from the FDA," said Hashim Zaibak, CEO at Hayat Pharmacy.

Jodi Sowinski, who has breast cancer, got her third dose on Friday, Sept. 17 at Hayat Pharmacy and said it will provide some peace of mind.

"I'm grateful that I'm able to do it because I am going through cancer treatments, so the last thing I need is to come down with COVID," Sowinski said.

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