WEATHER AUTHORITY : Severe Thunderstorm Watch View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

US sets the stage for COVID booster shots for millions

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Geovana Albuquerque / Health Agency / CC BY 2.0. License Link.

The U.S. vaccination drive against COVID-19 is poised for a major new phase: Government advisers on Thursday recommended booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for millions of Americans.

Posted: Sep 23, 2021 4:43 PM

The U.S. vaccination drive against COVID-19 stood on the verge of a major new phase as government advisers Thursday recommended booster doses of Pfizer's vaccine for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans — despite doubts the extra shots will do much to slow the pandemic.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

Deciding who else might get one was far tougher. While there is little evidence that younger people are in danger of waning immunity, the panel offered the option of a booster for those 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one.

But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy front-line health care workers who aren't at risk of severe illness but want to avoid even a mild infection.

“We might as well just say give it to everyone 18 and older. We have a very effective vaccine and it’s like saying, ‘It’s not working.’ It is working," said Dr. Pablo Sanchez of Ohio State University, who helped block the broadest booster option.

Still, getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority, and the panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal.

All three of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. still are highly protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, even amid the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant. But only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, just 55% of the population.

“We can give boosters to people, but that’s not really the answer to this pandemic,” said Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University. “Hospitals are full because people are not vaccinated. We are declining care to people who deserve care because we are full of unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.”

Thursday's decision represented a dramatic scaling back of the Biden administration plan, announced last month, to dispense boosters to nearly everyone to shore up their protection. Late Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration, like the CDC, signed off on Pfizer boosters for a much more targeted slice of the American population than the White House envisioned.

It falls to the CDC to set final U.S. policy on who qualifies for the extra shot. The CDC usually follows its advisers' recommendations. A final decision from the agency was expected later Thursday.

The booster plan marks an important shift in the nation's vaccination drive. Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don't have enough for their initial doses.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky opened Thursday's meeting by stressing that vaccinating the unvaccinated remains the top goal “here in America and around the world.”

Walensky acknowledged that the data on who really needs a booster right away “are not perfect.” “Yet collectively they form a picture for us,” she said, "and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic.”

The CDC panel stressed its recommendations will be changed if new evidence shows more people need a booster.

The CDC advisers expressed concern over the millions more Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still hasn’t considered boosters for those brands and has no data on whether it’s safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.

“I just don’t understand how later this afternoon we can say to people 65 and older you’re at risk for severe illness and death but only half of you can protect yourselves right now,” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University.

About 26 million Americans got their last Pfizer dose at least six months ago, about half of whom are 65 or older. It's not clear how many more would meet the CDC panel's initial booster qualifications.

CDC data shows the vaccines still offer strong protection for all ages, but there is a slight drop among the oldest adults. And immunity against milder infection appears to be waning months after people's initial immunization.

For most people, if you’re not in a group recommended for a booster, “it’s really because we think you’re well-protected,” said Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “This isn’t about who deserves a booster, but who needs a booster.”

Among people who stand to benefit from a booster, there are few risks, the CDC concluded. Serious side effects from the first two Pfizer doses are exceedingly rare, including heart inflammation that sometimes occurs in younger men. Data from Israel, which has given nearly 3 million people — mostly 60 and older — a third Pfizer dose, has uncovered no red flags.

The panelists also wrestled with how to even tell when a booster is needed. While an extra dose revs up numbers of virus-fighting antibodies, those naturally wane over time and no one knows how long the antibody boost from a third Pfizer dose will last -- or how much protection it really adds, since the immune system also forms additional defenses after vaccination.

The U.S. has already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497379

Reported Deaths: 9907
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34085530
DeSoto31806398
Hinds31796621
Jackson24303377
Rankin21852387
Lee15413233
Madison14513278
Jones13770241
Forrest13401250
Lauderdale11936314
Lowndes10908184
Lamar10461135
Pearl River9428237
Lafayette8450137
Hancock7690126
Washington7361156
Oktibbeha7110129
Monroe6713173
Warren6635175
Neshoba6606204
Pontotoc6603101
Panola6458131
Marshall6378132
Bolivar6264145
Union595194
Pike5780152
Alcorn5630100
Lincoln5416134
George490479
Scott470698
Tippah464981
Prentiss464181
Leflore4626143
Itawamba4590104
Adams4570119
Tate4539109
Copiah444691
Simpson4419116
Wayne438572
Yazoo437586
Covington427194
Sunflower4215104
Marion4206107
Coahoma4114104
Leake407287
Newton380879
Grenada3691108
Stone358264
Tishomingo355991
Attala330189
Jasper328065
Winston312891
Clay305875
Chickasaw296567
Clarke290294
Calhoun277645
Holmes266587
Smith262550
Yalobusha232347
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217663
Greene215448
Lawrence211140
Perry204555
Amite203454
Webster201645
Noxubee184940
Montgomery178956
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167338
Tunica158539
Benton147038
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131037
Humphreys128838
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104339
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 811551

Reported Deaths: 15101
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1138721885
Mobile720161315
Madison51829685
Shelby37203339
Baldwin37018538
Tuscaloosa34853599
Montgomery33879718
Lee23097239
Calhoun22095468
Morgan20584368
Etowah19727496
Marshall18224298
Houston17270405
St. Clair15884337
Cullman15257289
Limestone15177197
Elmore14944283
Lauderdale14060294
Talladega13653270
DeKalb12530258
Walker11055363
Blount10071174
Autauga9874146
Jackson9760177
Coffee9171188
Dale8850180
Colbert8768200
Tallapoosa7028194
Escambia6714127
Covington6661179
Chilton6571160
Russell623458
Franklin5926105
Chambers5553142
Marion4942126
Dallas4848199
Clarke472681
Pike4713105
Geneva4557126
Winston4456101
Lawrence4247116
Bibb421186
Barbour355274
Marengo333889
Monroe329062
Randolph324663
Butler323694
Pickens313479
Henry310365
Hale308586
Cherokee299257
Fayette289779
Washington250850
Cleburne245758
Crenshaw243075
Clay238867
Macon229862
Lamar214846
Conecuh185051
Coosa177338
Lowndes173061
Wilcox166738
Bullock151744
Perry137940
Sumter130738
Greene125344
Choctaw86527
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
80° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 84°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 84°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 73°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 84°
A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather