With federal sign-offs, all American adults now eligible for coronavirus vaccine boosters – The Washington Post

by health and nutrition advice journalist

Federal health officials hope a straightforward boosters-for-all policy will prompt millions more people to get the shots before they travel or gather with friends and family over the holidays. Many are concerned about the worsening picture as winter approaches. After new cases dipped to almost 69,000 on Oct. 25 — their lowest point in months — they began climbing again, with the seven-day average rising 40 percent to more than 96,000 on Thursday.

The final piece of the booster-policy overhaul fell into place early Friday evening when Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accepted two unanimous recommendations from the agency’s independent experts. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said anyone 18 and older may get a booster and — to stress the urgency of increasing protection for the most vulnerable age group — anyone 50 and older should make sure they get one.

“Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose,” Walensky said in a statement. “Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays.”

The more forceful recommendation for those 50 and older had not been on the CDC advisory panel’s agenda and was added at the last minute. Panel members said it was important to convey that older adults have the clearest benefit versus risk, with far less chance than young people of developing the rare but serious cardiac side effects from the mRNA vaccines.

Grace Lee, a pediatrics professor at Stanford University and chair of the advisory panel, said she favored the callout to older people because many have a hard time keeping up with the guidelines. “That list keeps changing,” she said. “I’m not even sure I could keep up with who’s eligible and who’s not eligible.”

“I have heard from I don’t know how many states, ‘Everything is confusing here. Can you make it simpler?’ ” Peter Marks, director of the FDA center that regulates vaccines, said in an interview. “I think this is pretty simple now: If you are over 18, and you have been vaccinated … it is time to go get a booster. Doesn’t matter which one you get, go get a booster.”

“Simplifying eligibility will allow staff across the states, territories and local health departments to focus on making vaccination — primarily the primary vaccination series — as easy and as accessible as possible,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. He told panel members that state health department staff have been “fielding a high volume of booster eligibility questions.”

The action on booster shots means the Biden administration has come full circle since August, when President Biden and his top health aides announced plans to make boosters available to all adults beginning in late September. The administration backed off after receiving sharp criticism from many scientists and public health experts who said there was little evidence that young, healthy people needed the extra shot, especially because of concerns about a rare side effect involving inflammation of the heart muscle seen mostly in young men.

And FDA’s Marks said the agency also took a close look at the potential risk of heart-related side effects in older male teenagers and young men. Updated information and analyses showed that the risks posed by the boosters were very low and were far outweighed by the potential benefits of preventing covid-19, he said.

Nevertheless, the agency noted in its Moderna booster fact sheet for health-care providers that some studies show a potentially higher risk of the cardiac side effect after the second shot of Moderna, compared with Pfizer-BioNTech. The FDA also noted a lower risk from the Moderna booster shot than from the initial vaccination. Some countries have restricted or barred the use of the Moderna vaccine in younger men because of concerns about that side effect.

The American Medical Association applauded the agencies’ decisions, saying, “The scientific evidence is clear that the vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and remain effective. We continue to strongly urge everyone who has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 and is eligible, including children aged 5 and older and pregnant people, to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

The policy ends an awkward chapter for federal officials who have wrestled with the eligibility issue since summer and been leapfrogged by New York City and a growing number of states, including Louisiana, Maine and Colorado, that already endorsed widespread use of the extra shots to try to stave off a spike in cases.

While many experts expressed relief at the simpler recommendations, Jay A. Winsten, director of strategic media initiatives at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the conflicting messages over recent weeks have taken a toll that will have an ongoing impact on people’s trust in public health.

This content was originally published here.

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