CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has endorsed the use of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 booster shot for high-risk workers, going against her own advisers.
The CDC's independent vaccine advisory panel said on Thursday afternoon that the booster should be given to patients 65-years-old and older and nursing home residents, along with patients between ages 18 and 64 with underlying health conditions that raise the chances of severe coronavirus.
The group, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, voted against allowing the booster for at-risk individuals because of on-the-job exposure, such as for health care workers and teachers, breaking with the Food and Drug Administration's decision Wednesday to allow the booster for high-risk workers.
Walensky's said her action aligns with the Food and Drug Administration's authorization. The White House has also been pushing for a wider booster program for the American public. Walensky's decision has official veto power behind it, and effectively nullifies the previous vote, changing the CDC's official position on the issue. According to Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, the CDC liaison for the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was a "close" vote to begin with, however.
Walensky's decision to overrule the advisers, announced just before 1 am on Friday, allows the Biden administration to expand use of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, but falls short of the broad rollout the White House laid out last month.
President Joe Biden had first aimed to begin administering Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters to most adults beginning this week, Politico reported.
The endorsement is a surprising move, because it's a very rare occurrence for a CDC director to go against the recommendations of her own agency's advisers.
"It is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact," Walensky said of the maneuver. "In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good."
The CDC itself has also been accused as being overly political in recent years, since it has pronounced on issues not directly related to disease or health.
In late August, the CDC announced it will be restarting its dormant "gun violence" research program to address the "epidemic" of firearm deaths and injuries. At the beginning of April, the CDC declared racism a "serious public health threat" that required immediate action. Walensky cited racism as the cause of "health inequities, health disparities and disease." She added that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color.