Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky overruled the recommendation of her agency’s scientists and approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster shot for frontline workers in accord with President Biden’s plan.
The CDC panel had approved boosters for people ages 65 and older, and “high risk” Americans with underlying conditions.
Some scientists on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel said they needed more data to determine whether or not younger people on the “front lines,” including nurses and teachers, should receive a booster shot.
But Walensky said in a statement Thursday night that she had weighed the benefits against the risks.
“In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” Walensky said. “While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world.”
The New York Times reported CDC employees were unaware of the policy reversal until just minutes before the release of Walensky’s statement.
One week ago, a Food and Drug Administration voted 16-2 against approving booster shots for people 16 to 65. Similar to the CDC panel, members said there is insufficient data to judge the Pfizer vaccine’s risks to younger groups. Scientists on the FDA panel highlighted the possible increased risk for heart inflammation, or myocarditis, particularly among males ages 16-17.
On Friday, investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald accused Walensky of choose politics over science.
“Unbelievable: after 18 months of demanding everyone FOLLOW THE SCIENCE and scorning any questioning, Biden’s CDC Director ignores — overrules — the overwhelming recommendation of her scientists about the Pfizer booster, to align with what Biden wanted,” he said.
The FDA vote came one week after the two top FDA officials responsible for vaccine research announced their resignations, strongly warning against vaccine boosters in a signed letter in the British medical journal The Lancet. The officials, Drs. Marion Gruber and Philip Krause, are leaving amid criticism that the White House put political pressure on the FDA, essentially bypassing the agency to push ahead with its COVID-19 booster-shot plan. The development, wrote Jeffrey A. Tucker of the Brownstone Institute, is about more than the boosters: “It’s about the whole experience of taking away the control of health management from individuals and medical professionals and handing it over to modelers and government officials with coercive power.”
Biden said Friday that boosters are needed for “protecting the vaccinated,” again calling it a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” However, he insisted that “fully vaccinated” Americans, who have received two shots, are safe.
“This week, as planned, we took a key step in protecting the vaccinated with booster shots, which our top government doctors believe provides the highest level of protection available to date,” Biden said.
After Biden’s remarks, a reporter asked the president about the Americans who are getting booster shots by simply claiming that they are not yet vaccinated.
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to see that in the near term we’re going to open this up anyway,” said Biden. “We’re also looking to the time when we’re going to expand the booster shots across the board.”