An advisory committee with the Food and Drug Administration unanimously voted in favor of deploying Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 booster vaccine to people ages 65 and older and those at high risk for contracting serious illness on Friday.
The decisions came after hours of deliberations on Friday, where the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) heard from Pfizer officials about their booster shots.
In an initial vote, the committee outright rejected booster shots for everyone ages 16 and older, citing concerns about the level of evidence currently available about the safety of boosters in young adults and teens.
“I have major concerns with regard to the extrapolation of data from much older populations to 16- and 17- year-olds,” Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University, said. “We have no data on the safety in this population at all that have been presented so far, and that concerns me significantly,” she added.
“Recommending a third dose for younger people is not something I would be comfortable with at this point,” Dr. Melinda Wharton, the director of immunization services at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added.
After the initial vote, the panel narrowed the recommendation to consider a booster shot for those over the age of 65 and anyone at higher risk for severe illness. This won sweeping approval among the committee, who voted 18-0 in favor of the measure. According to national reports, people who are at high-risk for exposure, like health care workers and teachers, could also be eligible for a booster shot.
The advisory panel’s recommendation will now move on to the FDA, which will make a decision about whether or not to approve the booster dose. The CDC will also weigh in on this during a meeting scheduled for Sept. 22 and 23. The CDC must give its stamp of approval before any doses are allocated.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the director of the county’s Public Health Department, told the News-Press Friday that the department has a plan in place to deliver booster shots when federal regulators and the California Department of Public Health give the final go-ahead.
She said the Public Health Department will be focused on reaching vulnerable populations through the deployment of mobile clinics, which they have used throughout the pandemic to deliver vaccines. She added that healthcare partners, such as Cottage Hospital, Sansum Clinic, Marian Regional Medical Center and Lompoc Valley Medical Center, will be working directly with patients to deliver their third dose.
As long as the FDA and CDC give booster approval, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the county and state are preparing for a tentative rollout of the booster shots in early October.
During the committee’s deliberations on Friday, Dr. Do-Reynoso said she appreciates the advisory panel’s insight and rigor in reviewing the booster shots to ensure community safety.
“I respect this rigorous process of looking at all the data, looking at all the studies and robust conversation because at the end of the day, we want these experts to provide us with the best guidance possible,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.