A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee on Friday struck down a proposal to give a third Pfizer coronavirus vaccine dose to the general population – a major blow to the Biden administration’s booster shot plan.
The majority of panel experts voted against giving a third shot to Pfizer recipients ages 16 and older. It’s another setback for President Joe Biden, who saw the approval rating of his handling of the pandemic drop below 50% for the first time this week in a poll.
The vote throws a wrench in the Biden administration’s plan to start administering booster shots to the general population next week. While the FDA does not have to follow the recommendations of the panel, it usually does.
However, after the initial vote, the panel proposed an alternative scenario of giving third doses to people ages 65 and older as well as individuals at high risk of severe COVID-19. The motion passed unanimously. It is unclear whether the more narrow proposal will gain support from the FDA or the CDC’s vaccine advisory panel, which is scheduled to meet next week.
Committee members heard presentations from FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials who said that the coronavirus vaccines continue to maintain high protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death but that the delta variant has raised concerns that a booster dose might be needed as protection against infection appears lower in recent months.
They also heard from Israeli health officials who presented data in favor of a booster shot, saying it helped the country control a fourth wave of the virus.
But the panel voiced a desire for additional data, particularly on rare cases of heart inflammation in young people following the shot.
Pfizer has repeatedly argued that a third dose will be needed, while many experts have said that more data is necessary to support the use of a booster shot. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on administering booster doses through 2021 to try to give low-income countries a chance to catch up on vaccination coverage.
While Biden’s booster plan originally applied to both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine recipients, experts argued that there wasn’t enough data yet to decide on a third dose of the Moderna shot. Likewise, Johnson & Johnson recipients will also have to wait for more data before a second dose can be recommended.