COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — On Friday afternoon, an FDA panel rejected a proposal to provide vaccine booster shots to a majority of Americans.
Pfizer had been seeking approval to give a third shot of its mRNA vaccine to those already eligible for the shots, ages 16 and up.
The FDA panel rejected that measure in a 16-2 vote.
After a ten minute break, the panel returned and amended the approval question they were voting on, and unanimously approved booster shots for Americans 65+ and those at high risk of developing severe COVID.
Ahead of the vote, doctors were concerned about what the outcome could do to the discussion surrounding vaccination.
“Messaging wise to the public, this is going to be a little confusing to understand,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo with OhioHealth. “The first time we heard about third doses and boosters was from a politician in the Biden administration and the decision on having a booster available or if its needed is really an apolitical decision. It needs to be based on science, it needs to be based on data.”
“There are people throughout the world who don’t have access to vaccine,” said Dr. Mark Herbert with Mt. Carmel. “So that is another concern, so much so that the WHO (World Health Organization) really does not want the US to be encouraging additional shots when there are so many people in poorer countries across the world who do not have access to any shots.”
Doctors say most people who read studies or reports about declining antibody levels shouldn’t be too concerned about their need for a booster shot, as they likely still have a strong level of immunity.
“We have blood tests that show the level of antibody decreases over time. This is common after every infection or every vaccine. It doesn’t necessarily mean your immunity is decreasing over time,” Herbert said.
“Over time, all antibody levels go down but when antibody levels go down, that makes it riskier for people to get a breakthrough infection,” Gastaldo said. “But with stimulation of the memory cells from the vaccine, your memory cells will kick in., your antibody titers will go back up and you’re clear the virus much quicker. Your memory cells – once those are stimulated, those are long lasting for perhaps even the rest of your life or decades and it’s the memory cells that prevent people from having severe disease.”
Doctors say they’ll be ready to give out the third shots once they are officially approved. But as hospitals reach their capacity, their focus still remains on getting a significant number of people their first dose.
“We could offer a booster to everyone who has already received a vaccine and that would not do much to actually slow down the pandemic and to end the pandemic if we don’t also vaccinate the ones who are unvaccinated currently,” said Dr. Carlos Malvestutto with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.