AUSTIN (KXAN) — Federal health officials are meeting this week to discuss guidance for COVID-19 booster shots to bolster immunity against the virus.
A Centers for Disease Control advisory committee is slated to meet on Wednesday and Thursday and provide recommendations on third shots for those vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and a final authorization decision could be made by the Food and Drug Administration as soon as this week.
However, providers are still bracing for questions and confusion, after an FDA advisory panel voted to approve distribution of extra Pfizer doses only for people 65 and up or those at high risk of severe illness. They declined to endorse boosters for the general public.
This recommendation came after comments made by President Biden and the White House, indicating everyone could be eligible for an additional shot beginning September 20.
“There are some people that are just frustrated that they were told one thing, but it seems like there are so many government agencies that can’t work together to provide a clear message to people,” said Rannon Ching, pharmacist-in-charge at Tarrytown Pharmacy.
Ching’s staff had originally scheduled patients for booster-shot appointments after the President’s announcement, but now, they are canceling those appointments until the FDA and CDC provide more details and guidance. Still, they have heard about patients who opted to try and get a booster shot elsewhere.
“Saying ‘Hey, well, I heard my neighbor went to this clinic or pharmacy and they were able to get one, and they weren’t asking questions,’” he said. “We are ready to go, but right now, we are just playing the waiting game.”
Nearly 1 million booster shots have been administered in the United States since health officials authorized administering extra shots of Pfizer or Moderna to people with weakened immune systems, according to analysis of CDC data by CNBC News. It’s still unclear, though, if all of those people were considered immunocompromised.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services said their agency was not posting any data that tracks booster shots or additional doses at this time, but they plan to do so in the future, once more guidelines are finalized.
The spokesperson emphasized that the FDA has not issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a third Pfizer or Moderna dose or a second Johnson and Johnson dose for the general public.
Dr. Jason McLellan, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Texas at Austin who helped develop technology instrumental to the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine, said these federal agencies were not only evaluating the safety and effectiveness of additional doses, but also the necessity for certain age groups and demographics.
“They don’t want to approve something unless there is data to prove it’s absolutely needed. That can be tricky data,” he said.
The recommendations, he explained, could differ depending on the patient’s age group, the time they received the shot or the type of vaccine they received.
The DSHS spokesperson noted that state health officials already advised vaccine providers to start ordering additional vaccine doses in anticipation of increased demand, if a booster shot was authorized. Still, they are encouraging Texans to wait to try and get the shot.
“Providers should not be administering booster doses until the EUA has been issued and the CDC has made their recommendations. DSHS will provide guidance on boosters to providers once all of those things happen,” she said.