Booster shot decision: What happens now; who can get a COVID-19 booster shot?

A government advisory panel on Friday failed to approve a plan to allow anyone fully vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to get a third shot, instead recommending a booster only for those over 65 or at an increased risk of severe disease.

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The panel, which sends a recommendation about drugs and their use to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, shot down Pfizer’s request to give booster shots of its Comirnaty vaccine to anyone who is fully vaccinated and older than 16.

The FDA does not have to take the recommendation from the panel, though it usually does. The agency is expected to meet this week to decide if it will endorse a blanket booster recommendation or only extra shots for those in specific groups.

Here’s what we know about the vaccine booster and when or if it will be available to the general public.

What does Friday’s vote by the FDA advisory panel mean?

The vote on Friday was taken by a panel that advises the FDA on medications up for approval by the agency. The panel, one of 49 at the agency, weighs “the available evidence and provides scientific and medical advice on the safety, effectiveness, and appropriate use of products that FDA regulates.”

What the panel recommended was that for those who are over age 65, those who are immunocompromised, or those who are in a special circumstance that could lead to a higher chance of contracting the virus, a booster shot would be recommended.

What the panel did not recommend is that everyone fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine get a booster shot.

The advisory panel’s recommendation will be forwarded to the FDA for its consideration in deciding if the agency will approve a booster shot.

The FDA is not required to follow the advice of the panel, but usually does. The agency is expected to decide early this week on who it thinks should get a booster shot. After that meeting, the booster shot recommendation will then be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for consideration.

If both the FDA and the CDC OK the booster, third shots of Pfizer’s vaccine will then be available.

Who can get a booster shot now?

Currently, booster shots are approved only for those who are immunocompromised.

What if you received a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shot?

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the data from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson concerning their COVID-19 booster is likely a few weeks away from being reviewed by the FDA.

“The actual data that we’ll get [on] that third shot for the Moderna and second shot for the J & J is literally a couple to a few weeks away,” Fauci, who is the White House medical advisor, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We’re working on that right now to get the data to the FDA, so they can examine it and make a determination about the boosters for those people.”

If I had the Moderna vaccine, can I get a Pfizer booster?

The FDA panel did not address booster shots for those who have been vaccinated with either the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

So far, health authorities are not recommending that you get a booster shot from another vaccine maker.

However, that advice could change in the coming months.

A review published in Science showed people with “hybrid immunity,” or immunity from different vaccines, saw an immediate and “striking” improvement in protection. Dr. Shane Crotty, review author and virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, said some in the study saw up to a 100-fold increase in their antibody response compared to the response after a COVID-19 infection.

As of now, however, If you are fully vaccinated with the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, researchers do not recommend you get a Pfizer booster shot.

What about young people?

The FDA is not at this time considering a booster for the fully vaccinated younger than age 16.

The panel that met on Friday questioned the need and the effectiveness of a booster shot for young people.

“We’re being asked to approve this as a three-dose vaccine for people 16 years of age and older, without any clear evidence if the third dose for a younger person when compared to an elderly person is of value,” said committee member Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

What the FDA panel considered on Friday was the possibility of a COVID-19 booster for those over the age of 16.

On Monday, Pfizer announced that clinical trials have shown that giving two doses of a smaller amount of its vaccine 21 days apart for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old was well tolerated, and that they will be submitting that information to the FDA for approval.

Currently, its vaccine is approved for use for those ages 12 and older.