FDA advisory panel votes against Pfizer boosters for all adults -- after Biden promised it

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Go watch the video of him from August 18, at around the 11:35 mark. All fully vaccinated adults would be eligible eight months after their second dose, he vowed, in light of the evidence from Israel indicating waning immunity in Pfizer recipients.

Nine days later, he even mused about shortening the wait from eight months to five.

It’s been three weeks since then. Today the FDA’s panel of advisors sifted through data from Pfizer, from Israel, and from other sources and voted overwhelmingly … against boosters for all adults:

They did unanimously approve boosters for seniors and other high-risk people, 18-0, but tens of millions of younger Americans who’ve been digesting the news about Delta and their declining immunity from infection will wake up tomorrow to learn that they’re not eligible for a boost after all (assuming the FDA adopts the panel’s recommendations, which is likely). Imagine the confusion they’ll feel at having been told by the president that boosters are coming only to later be told by the president’s science brain trust that, actually, they’re not.

“This is an embarrassment for a president who campaigned against Donald Trump in 2020 and has ruled as the president of the United States, presided, for the last few months saying ‘we will listen to the scientists and we are going to not get ahead of the science,'” Chris Wallace said this morning about the now-realized possibility that the panel would contradict Biden. In that same August 18 speech he announced September 20 — this Monday — as the start date for boosters, but the CDC won’t meet until mid-week next week to discuss a timetable. And there’s still no word on what Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients should do. The policy’s a total hash.

Who’s to blame? Biden, for jumping the gun on boosters before his scientists were comfortable recommending them? Or Rochelle Walensky, for assuring Biden on August 18 that boosters were in order before later reversing herself?

Just to make things more confusing for the public, on the same day that the FDA panel has voted against boosters for all Pfizer recipients, the CDC has released new data showing declining protection against hospitalization, not just infection, for Pfizer recipients. Moderna recipients saw no diminution after 120 days, by contrast:

The new study found that from two weeks after recipients got their second dose — a point at which they are normally considered fully vaccinated — to four months later, the Pfizer vaccine was 91 percent effective in preventing hospitalization. Beyond 120 days, though, its effectiveness fell to 77 percent.

The Moderna vaccine showed no comparable decrease in protection over the same time frame: It was 92 percent effective against hospitalizations four months after recipients’ vaccination, a level virtually identical to its 93 percent effectiveness before then.

I assume most of the waning immunity against hospitalization was concentrated among senior citizens, who will be getting boosters. But if you’re under-65, risk-averse, and were hoping to get a third dose to further mitigate the chance of serious illness, you’re out of luck. Unless, of course, you do what a few million other people have already done and lie to your pharmacist.

Which is what today’s announcement amounts to. Practically speaking, vaccinated younger adults aren’t being told they can’t have boosters. They’re being told that they’ll have to falsely claim to some vaccine tech somewhere that they’re unvaccinated and would like their first shot of Pfizer, please. Widespread deception towards the health-care system aimed at procuring what may be a highly beneficial third dose seems like a sub-optimal way to run a national vaccination campaign. Question: Why don’t they recommend boosters for seniors but also allow anyone else who wants one to get one, and then track those people to see what happens to their immunity?

They have a willing population of millions of “test subjects.” Put them to use. Gather your own data for once instead of relying on Israel day after day.

Phil Klein steps backs and surveys the fiasco this booster process has become:

[B]y putting the cart before the horse, Biden guaranteed that any booster strategy that is ultimately pursued will be met by a higher degree of skepticism than it otherwise would have. And it isn’t clear at this point, even if Americans want to diligently follow the science, who they should trust.

Should they trust Fauci, the CDC, and Biden, who are making the case for boosters? FDA experts who are skeptical? Do we think that the usefulness of vaccines erodes within eight months, or do we think that protection is longer lasting?

Is there a neutral party in this? Because there is good reason to distrust everybody. Biden is clearly eager to show he is being aggressive on COVID-19 during the Delta surge, but the FDA has a long history of being overly cautious. There is every reason why pharmaceutical companies would have an interest in promoting boosters. But also, plenty of public health officials are in bed with the global health community, which is concerned about wealthy countries giving booster shots to their populations while poorer countries still haven’t had much access to initial doses.

I’ll leave you with a clip from two weeks ago in which the most famous scientist in America told his audience that not only was he high on boosters, he believed in his experience as an immunologist that a third dose may well be needed to produce the sort of durable immunity that’s the ultimate goal of vaccination against a particular disease. In other words, to be truly “fully vaccinated,” you may need three shots. Meanwhile, the FDA’s advisors just voted down a third dose as unnecessary based on the data. Good luck to everyone in trying to make sense of all this noise.