FDA considers boosters of Moderna, J&J vaccines

October 12, 2021
This May 13, 2021, file photo shows syringes filled with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a mobile vaccination site in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations are rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot. Meanwhile, millions who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait to learn when it’s their turn. 

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week.

On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra shots of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when. 

The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week.

After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency will make an official decision on whether to authorise boosters.

Then a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them.

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks.

The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

The process is meant to bolster public confidence in the vaccines.

But it has already led to conflicts among experts and agencies — and documents the FDA released Tuesday suggest this week’s decisions will be equally difficult.

In one earlier vaccine dispute, the CDC’s advisory panel last month backed Pfizer boosters at the six-month point for older Americans, nursing home residents and people with underlying health problems.

But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky overruled her advisers and decided boosters should also be offered to those with high-risk jobs such as teachers and health care workers, adding tens of millions more Americans to the list.

Some health experts fear the back-and-forth deliberations are muddling the public effort to persuade the unvaccinated to get their first shots.

They worry that the talk of boosters will lead people to wrongly doubt the effectiveness of the vaccines in the first place.

When the FDA’s panel meets to review the Moderna and J&J vaccines, experts will discuss whether a third Moderna shot should contain just half the original dose and what’s the best timing for a second shot of the single-dose J&J vaccine.

The panel will also look into the safety and effectiveness of mixing-and-matching different brands of vaccine, something regulators have not endorsed so far.

An estimated 103 million Americans are fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s formula, 69 million with Moderna’s and 15 million with J&J’s, according to the CDC. 

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