Do fully vaccinated Americans actually need boosters to fight COVID-19? Or did the FDA and CDC cave to pressure from the Biden administration? One might expect this question to be raised by Fox News or conservative commentators. Instead, the New York Times asked the advisers themselves, some of whom told reporters that they felt steamrolled into approving general-population boosters.
Following a series of endorsements over the last month by scientific panels advising federal agencies, tens of millions of Americans are now eligible for booster shots of coronavirus vaccines.
But the recommendations — even those approved unanimously — mask significant dissent and disquiet among those advisers about the need for booster shots in the United States. …
All the advisers felt that they were obligated to make difficult choices, based on sparse research, in the middle of a public health emergency. But some said they felt compelled to vote for the shots because of the way the federal agencies framed the questions that they were asked to consider.
Other committee experts said that they wanted to avoid confusing the public further by dissenting, or that they voted according to their views of the evidence and were simply overruled.
No one’s disputing the efficacy of the vaccines, the facts of which are firmly established. No one’s disputing the need for high-risk people to get boosters either — seniors, immune suppressed, those in high-risk positions, among others. What is in question is the necessity of boosters for otherwise healthy adults without specific co-morbidities, and whether the FDA and CDC are making these decisions based on science or on politics.
At least one CDC adviser insists that it’s been the latter, at least in these cases:
“These are not evidence-based recommendations,” said Dr. Sarah S. Long, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and a member of the C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
That is quite a statement when considering whether we are indeed “following the science,” and whether the erosion of credibility creates more public-safety risk than boosters prevent. The more that these decisions get made on the basis of politics, the worse that erosion becomes. Not only do the mandates create resistance to voluntary compliance with mitigation and prevention measures, the use of politics in these decisions makes even the science debatable. No matter how one feels about vaccines, that credibility crisis is dangerous in much broader strokes.
Also, one has to question what purpose pressuring these advisers for approving boosters served. If indeed that normally healthy adults who have been fully vaccinated are already well protected, doesn’t issuing a booster recommendation serve to undermine confidence in the vaccines? And in doing that, doesn’t it disincentivize adoption of vaccines by those who are skeptical? It’s entirely counter-productive to the overall goal of achieving universal immunity, both in the disincentives and in the redirection of tens of millions of doses for boosters that may not be necessary.
Also, this reminds us that the booster issue really should have been left to patients and doctors, not the FDA and the CDC. Once they determined the safety and relative effectiveness of the vaccines and the boosters, the decision to boost should have been made voluntarily by providers and those who may or may not get boosted.
One has to wonder how the rest of the media will respond to this development now that the NYT has done this reporting. Until today, criticism of the process and decisions at the FDA and CDC — especially about politicization at both agencies — have been treated like conspiracy theories. Suddenly, even the Gray Lady is confirming the impression most of us have had about the federal medical establishment all along. Maybe the rest of the media should have been scrutinizing these processes all along, and if they had, perhaps we would have more credible and reliable outcomes now.
Addendum: In the meantime, talk with your doctor, and get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so and you have no contraindications to the compounds. Don’t let bureaucratic idiocy dissuade you from getting the easily available protection against the virus.