The drug regulatory agency in the United States (FDA, for its acronym in English) has followed the recommendations of its panel of experts and approved this Wednesday a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for those over 65 years, people at high risk of serious illness and workers highly exposed to contracting the virus. Everyone should receive it at least six months after their second injection. The Joe Biden Administration had hoped the FDA would give the general population the go-ahead for a third dose, but the vast majority of scientists advising the agency rejected the proposal last week.
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The regulator’s decision is a small step forward in the White House vaccination plan, but very far from the plan that Biden had announced in mid-August, in which he assured that the healthy population could get a third vaccine from September 20. To settle the issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English) still have to pronounce. A group of advisers are participating in a two-day meeting this week to define who and when should receive a third round of injections. So far they have been in favor of benefiting older adults, nursing home residents and frontline healthcare workers.
Intense discussions by FDA and CDC experts have exposed the complexity of defining whether or not a booster dose is necessary. On the one hand, covid vaccines continue to offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. On the other, more lower-grade infections occur among those vaccinated as immunity declines. In addition, scientists are divided among themselves the evidence obtained so far is enough to make the decision. Immunosuppressed patients can already receive a third injection.
About 22 million Americans received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine more than six months ago, according to the CDC. About half of them are 65 or older. If they authorize a booster dose of this drug, the regulators have already warned that they do not recommend that people who received a different brand receive the third prick from Pfizer. The FDA will soon decide on the booster injection of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The US is administering about 760,000 doses a day, well below the peak of 3.4 million a day recorded in mid-April. Approximately 180 million Americans are fully vaccinated, representing 64% of the eligible population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has opposed the richest countries administering a third dose when the poorest still do not have enough vaccines to immunize their population for the first time. Biden announced Wednesday that Washington will donate another 500 million doses of the vaccine to low-income nations, bringing the total to more than 1,100,000 vaccines distributed by the world power by 2022.
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