The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are botching the communication of another vital order for public health and it is infuriating to watch.
However, that doesn’t mean that we should get out ahead of the CDC or the FDA and ignore their painstakingly cautious approach to booster shots for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Gov. Jared Polis’ heart is in the right place with his advice to older Coloradans that they lie to pharmacists to get their booster vaccine even if they don’t strictly meet the existing CDC or FDA guidelines for eligibility. But we cannot join him in calling for Coloradans to ignore the guidance set forth by this nation’s health experts.
That being said, we are frustrated and perplexed by the rollout of booster vaccines.
A CDC advisory panel said on Thursday that Pfizer boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and those between 50 and 64 who have underlying health problems. That is a far narrower distribution of the booster shot than what President Joe Biden has advocated for, and it puts us behind other nations like Israel and Great Britain where the third round of shots are going out to the general population.
We share Polis’ concerns that the CDC and the FDA are letting practical and not health considerations drive their decisions. Much of the opposition to recommending vaccines for a larger swath of the population centers around the fact that millions of Americans still don’t have their first vaccines and neither do people in most of the world, particularly poorer countries. We think those concerns are valid, but misplaced. The FDA and the CDC must focus on three things: Saving lives, preventing hospitalizations, and whether it is safe to get a third shot.
Polis and Dr. Richard Zane from the University of Colorado Health both told The Denver Post editorial board that the science behind the safety and efficacy of a booster shot as clear.
“We’ve been very unequivocal about the value of boosters and third doses. The data is without ambiguity. The experience is without ambiguity and we’re talking to you from the front lines,” Zane said, noting that UC Health has already provided many employees working in its hospitals with booster shots or third doses. “It has really been twofold: complete immunity for those who couldn’t mount a complete immunologic response and then protecting society, protecting health care workers, protecting first responders, protecting the workforce to be able to deliver health care, to deliver education, to be able to continue to recover economically.”
When the FDA approved the Pfizer booster shot on Wednesday, the board did have concerns about the size of the test study noting that only 300 people participated in the trials. But otherwise, the board did not express reservations about the safety or efficacy of the third shot at least six months from the first two.
So we’re left puzzling why the CDC and FDA wouldn’t open up the boosters to a broader segment of the population other than for reasons unrelated to health and safety. Only 55% of the nation has received their vaccines, but that is by choice, not because of a limited supply. Those who feel they need the booster shots should not have to lie to get the added protection.
The CDC should remember how poorly trying to ration supplies worked when it discouraged mask-wearing in early 2020 trying to preserve masks for first responders and health care workers. The backlash from that decision is still haunting us as we try to persuade folks to mask up.
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