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CDC Director Walensky overrules agency panel recommendation on Pfizer booster for at-risk workers

The CDC director's decision to overrule the agency panel's recommendation is an unusual step and has surprised many in the field.

Updated: September 24, 2021 - 10:22am

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, late Thursday overruled an agency panel recommendation that refused to endorse booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for frontline workers. 

Walensky's move is an unusual one, though it aligns her agency with the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration over that of her own advisers. On Thursday, the CDC'S Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that booster shots be given to older Americans, and younger individuals who are at higher risk for severe cases of COVID-19. 

The recommendation, however, did not include health care workers, teachers, and others whose jobs place them at heightened risk. Walensky's trumping of that recommendation aligns her agency's policy with the Biden administration's broader goal of offering booster shots to as many Americans as is feasible. 

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford and a liaison to the CDC panel from the American Academy of Pediatrics told the New York Times, "I am surprised that Dr. Walensky overturned one of the four ACIP votes today, and I believe others will be as well." 

The panel's initial guidance came after weeks of internal dispute and debate about when and how to rollout a booster shot. The Biden administration has been touting boosters since mid-August and announced plans weeks ago to roll out the shots this week. Regulators and agency scientists, however, pumped the brakes on the White House plan by pointing out how little research had been done on boosters.

At present, only Americans who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will qualify for booster shots. The panel did not evaluate the eligibility of those who have received either the Moderna double shot or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

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