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Pfizer COVID booster shot still up in the air: The latest on eligibility after an FDA vote

The FDA committee voted against booster shots for the general public, but more Americans may soon be eligible to get the third shot.

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

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

During a Food and Drug Administration committee meeting Friday, the advisory panel voted against recommending the Pfizer booster be administered to the general public. However, the panel did recommend a plan be created to administer boosters to those 65 and older, as well as individuals at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. The FDA is expected to make a decision next week. 

That means if you've been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine, there's a possibility you might be eligible for a booster shot soon, if you are in one of those select groups noted above. The FDA gave full approval to Pfizer's two-dose vaccine in August and has already authorized a third Pfizer or Moderna dose for certain people with compromised immune systems. But federal scientists haven't yet confirmed a schedule for a booster shot -- which would be given months after the second dose -- for everyone else.

The government says it's been working with state and local health officials and other partners to assist with transparency and planning for the booster rollout. It has also indicated that it has a sufficient supply of all three vaccines available in the US, including Johnson & Johnson and Moderna. With recent studies showing the effectiveness of vaccines may start to decline after six to eight months, a vaccine booster would allow for added immune protection against COVID-19 and variants. 

Exactly when and where you can get your Pfizer booster shot is still a developing story, but we'll lay out what we know so far. For more on COVID-19, here's what we know about COVID-19 vaccine for kids, and the latest guidance on masks and breakthrough infections. And here's what you should know about the new federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

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Why would I need a Pfizer booster shot?

If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC says you will continue to be protected from infection and especially against serious illness. All the COVID-19 vaccine shots authorized by the FDA continue to be "highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death," according to the CDC.

However, recent studies -- such as one from Israel and another from the UK -- suggest that the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines may decrease after six or eight months and a booster shot may be needed to maintain high levels of protection against breakthrough COVID infections.

This week, Pfizer released data from its application to the FDA, arguing that immunity wanes over time. Pfizer also presented what it considers as proof that a booster will be safe and effective for the majority of adults. The FDA is reviewing that data publicly today. 

Who might be eligible for the COVID booster shot?

President Joe Biden said he wants everyone in the US who is already fully vaccinated to be eligible for a booster shot. But the FDA committee voted against that for now. Instead, they recommend that those who are age 65 and older should be eligible, as well as those who are at a high risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms -- that includes frontline and health care workers. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, has called for a moratorium on booster doses until every country is able to vaccinate at least 40% of its population. "I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world's poor should be satisfied with leftovers," Tedros said earlier this month.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly said having enough boosters for the US does not reduce the number of vaccines the US supplies to other countries. "We feel that it's a false choice and that we can do both," Psaki said in August, adding that the US has donated more vaccines globally than all other countries combined.

At the COVID-19 briefing on Sept. 17, Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that the US has distributed 140 million vaccine doses to almost 100 countries, and that it had purchased 500 million Pfizer doses to donate to the countries most in need in order to accelerate a global exit from the pandemic. 

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Already vaccinated? A booster could be in your future.

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When will I be able to get my Pfizer booster shot?

The timing is not entirely confirmed. In August, Biden said government health officials were recommending that those who are fully vaccinated be considered eligible for a booster shot eight months after their last jab, pending approval from the FDA and CDC. "As soon as they are authorized, those eligible will be able to get a booster right away," Biden said during his recent speech on federal vaccine mandates.

Since Biden first announced booster plans, the proposed timeline has shifted around. Pfizer's report submitted to the FDA requested that a booster shot be made available to most people six months after their second dose. The first step in the booster rollout would be for the FDA to amend its vaccine approval. Then a CDC advisory committee would have to give a recommendation on who can receive the extra shot and when. The final step would be for the CDC director to give a stamp of approval, according to ABC News

Whenever it happens, Pfizer's booster will likely be first out of the gate. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser, Pfizer's booster shot may be the first to receive approval, with those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to follow. That's because Pfizer's booster shot is further along in the FDA approval process than the other two formulations.

Who is already eligible to get a Pfizer booster shot?

Some immunocompromised people are already eligible under guidelines from the CDC and can go out now to get their third dose. The CDC's booster recommendation is for those 12 and older for the Pfizer vaccine. For the Moderna vaccine, the CDC is recommending 18 and older. The FDA hasn't authorized a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for immunocompromised people, because of a lack of data.

The CDC recommends you should talk with your health care provider about your medical condition and whether an additional dose is appropriate. See our guide on the booster vaccine for more on a booster shot for moderately to severely immunocompromised people.

Is the Pfizer booster the same as the first two shots?

Yes. According to Pfizer, its COVID-19 booster would be a third jab of the same vaccine you got with the first two doses. 

Separately, Pfizer is working with its partner BioNTech on a version of the COVID-19 vaccine that targets the delta variant.

Where can I get my Pfizer booster shot?

According to Zients, boosters will be available at roughly 80,000 places across the country, including over 40,000 local pharmacies. Some 90% of Americans have a vaccine site within 5 miles of where they live, Zients said, and getting a booster shot will be just as easy as getting the first shot. And the booster shot will be free too. 

You can check Vaccines.gov to see which vaccines are available where or call 800-232-0233 for vaccine information.

For more on coronavirus treatments and vaccines, here's what we know about monoclonal antibody treatments, the new federal vaccine mandates and why people may not want the shot.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.