This meeting was held days after another advisory group, this one representing the Food and Drug Administration, had rejected a White House proposal to distribute third shots to almost everyone. The panel recommended booster doses only for seniors and people at high risk of contracting the virus.
The COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. However, the immunity to milder infections seems to be declining months after vaccination.
The FDA advisory panel's decision last week was just the beginning of the government's booster policy. The FDA must decide if it accepts the recommendation of its advisors and will allow Pfizer boosters.
If it does, then the CDC must make recommendations to whomever should receive the additional shots, after listening to the Advisory Committee on Immunization practices, whose meeting was set for Thursday.
Priority still remains to vaccinate unvaccinated people, who, according to the CDC, account for the majority of COVID-19-related cases. This is a situation that has been unprecedented since last winter. Nearly 55% of Americans are fully vaccinated. This is 182 million Americans.
"I want you to know that COVID-19 deaths in the United States in September 2021 are largely preventable with the primary series vaccines," Dr. Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher and CDC adviser, said Wednesday.
The meeting's main focus was on who should be considered high enough at risk to receive an additional dose. For example, should health care workers who have been exposed to the virus for a long time be eligible for boosters?
Another question was when boosters should be administered. Scientists debate whether boosters should be given after six or eight months.
Experts are divided about whether boosters are necessary because they believe the COVID-19 vaccines work as expected. It is not unusual for the body's virus-fighting antibodies (antivirals) to diminish over several months after vaccination. The body still has backup defenses against the virus.
The government is evaluating whether the prevention of "breakthrough" infection in fully vaccinated children could reduce virus transmission, protect young children not yet eligible for vaccination, and lessen the burden on overloaded health care systems.
The government will determine at a later time whether additional doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are allowed.