CDC director endorses Pfizer booster for front-line workers, overruling advisory panel

The decision is in line with FDA authorization for booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine.

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A Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster is in the works.

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for older Americans, people living in long-term care facilities, adults with underlying medical conditions and frontline workers who are at an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure. 

The decision comes after an advisory committee to the CDC on Thursday recommended booster doses for people over 65 and adults with underlying medical conditions, but voted against recommending that Pfizer boosters be given to people 18 to 64 who are at risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission because of their work. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky's decision aligns with the Food and Drug Administration authorization given earlier this week to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Read more: CDC approves Pfizer booster shots: Who's eligible, when vaccine will be available

"I believe we can best serve the nation's public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19," said Walensky in a release. "This aligns with the FDA's booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot."

The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, though there continues to be concern over the highly transmissible delta variant. As some states see record numbers of cases, unvaccinated people have accounted for nearly all the hospitalizations and deaths -- over 97% as of July. While the US is preparing to offer additional doses to the public, just over 2% of people living in low-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose.

During a briefing on Friday morning, President Joe Biden said the US is prepared to start offering booster shots today to eligible Americans, including health care workers, teachers, grocery store employees and other front-line workers. 

"The booster shot is free and easily accessible," said Biden. "Booster shots will be available in 80,000 locations, including 40,000 pharmacies nationwide." The president, who is 78, said he will get a booster shot.

The CDC recommends that people over 65, residents in long-term care settings and people 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their initial two-dose series. For people 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions and for front-line workers 18 to 64, the CDC also recommends a booster after at least six months. 

Walensky said recommendations for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be considered as soon as data is available. 

Biden on Friday also encouraged the millions of Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get a shot and touted vaccine requirements put in place by the military and United Airlines.

"The refusal to get vaccinated costs all of us," Biden said. "I'm moving forward to vaccination requirements where I can. These requirements will cover two-thirds of all workers in America."