Federal guidance on boosters shots is about as helpful as you probably expected

For quite a while now, the Biden administration had been telling everyone that booster shots would be coming our way this week. Those plans were thrown into turmoil when the pharmaceutical companies and even some government health officials concluded that they weren’t ready to get behind the program. In another “follow the science” moment, we were told that some sort of compromise had been reached and there would indeed be booster shots. Sort of. For some people, but not very many. So is there enough data to support giving booster shots right now? Not really. But hey, we’re going to do it anyway. The latest news showing up on this front is the fact that the boosters will be even more limited in availability than was being discussed earlier this week. Even if you’re in one of the chosen groups that should be eligible, you will only be able to sign up if you were previously given the Pfizer doses and take the same one again for the third jab. If you originally received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, you’re still out of luck. (NBC News)

While a third shot can officially start going into arms, there is a caveat: Only people who have already been fully immunized with Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose Covid vaccine are eligible for a booster shot, which must also be Pfizer’s, based on the decisions made this week.

That leaves out millions of Americans who were initially vaccinated with Covid vaccines made by either Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — a decision that frustrated a number of advisers at a meeting of the CDC’s advisory committee, which met Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the booster recommendations.

But the Food and Drug Administration stood by its decision to not endorse a “mix-and-match” approach to vaccination boosters —meaning a booster shot of a different vaccine than what was used for the initial vaccination — citing a lack of evidence.

So we’re apparently going to be listening to the CDC advisory committee sometimes, but not all of the time. We already saw how CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky overrode the advisory committee earlier this week, saying that boosters could be given to people in jobs with high risks of exposure. The committee had not signed off on that call, citing insufficient data at this time.

While the Pfizer dose was one of the most popular and widely distributed in the United States, there were still a lot of people who got the Moderna or J&J shots, with the latter being particularly popular in more rural areas. That means that literally tens of millions of people who would otherwise be eligible will have to wait until the other two manufacturers get their testing data approved. (Assuming Walensky doesn’t just change her mind and overrule them again.) But why can’t people mix and match? Because nobody has been doing any serious testing of that process and we don’t have a good idea as to how the different doses will play together or how much protection they would provide when doing so.

Dr. Christina Rostad, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, attempted to point out the obvious.

“There’s very limited data on mixing and matching vaccine types and essentially no data on mixing and matching delayed booster vaccines,” she said.

But research on mixing and matching is underway.

Moderna finished its third-phase booster testing a couple of weeks ago and requested emergency approval from the FDA. That’s expected to happen “soon” but a date hasn’t even been set for the FDA to have a meeting to consider the request. Johnson & Johnson is also saying that their clinical booster trials are wrapping up, but they haven’t put in the emergency authorization request yet.

Even though I took the Pfizer doses, I’m not in one of the qualifying groups. And that’s fine by me. I’m not in any rush to go out and get a third shot. Perhaps I would be if we were getting consistent, verifiable medical data out of the government and the pharmaceutical companies, but at this point, I’m not sure if anybody in DC has a clue what’s actually going on. And Walensky continues to act as if she’s more interested in avoiding any political embarrassments for Joe Biden when he misses a date that he promised than she is in making sure we’re listening to the scientists who are supposed to be figuring all of this out.