The Biden Administration is expected as soon as this week to authorize a fourth dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to people ages 50 and older, according to reports published over the weekend.
The move is driven by fear that there could be another surge of disease in the next few months and a desire to get out in front of it, according to a Washington Post story citing anonymous administration officials.
However, two advisors to federal regulatory agencies told the Review-Journal they believe such a step would be premature.
“Where’s the evidence that that recommendation is supported by the science?” said Dr. Paul Offit, a member of a vaccination advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration.
“We want to follow the science, but I feel like here the recommendations sometimes precede the science,” Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Review-Journal.
Dr. William Schaffner, a non-voting member of a vaccination advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control, said he will be concerned if the administration makes a recommendation without public debate or input from his committee. The committee currently is not scheduled to meet on the issue.
“It would concern me greatly, because it’s not the usual way of doing business, and the usual way of doing business has served the American public and the public’s health very, very well for 70 years,” Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University, said in an interview.
What would be lost if steps are cut from the process would be “transparency and careful consideration.”
Both Pfizer and Moderna have requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for a fourth shot – a second booster – of their mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. If the FDA grants this authorization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would then recommend specifically which groups ought to get another shot. Pfizer requested authorization for those 65 and older, and Moderna for those 18 and up.
Currently, the CDC recommends a fourth shot only for those with compromised immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients taking immune-suppressing drugs. For immunocompromised individuals, the initial shots may not have stimulated an adequate immune response.