With just days to go before a high-stakes debate to determine which Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients receive COVID-19 booster shots, some experts remain confused about President Joe Biden’s goals for the booster rollout.
The White House was expected to meet privately with independent experts to outline and discuss Biden’s endgame for the booster campaign recently.
But scientists and other experts said a proposed Zoom meeting had not been scheduled after the details of an earlier call, in which many argued that boosters are premature, were leaked to the press last week, according to two of the experts.
The result: the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are deciding on booster shots while their role in ending the pandemic remains unclear even to some scientists close to the Biden administration.
The FDA’s panel of independent advisers on vaccines, the Vaccines and Related Products Advisory Committee, is set to meet Thursday and Friday to vote on which recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should get another dose. The FDA will then decide on an emergency use authorization and usually, but not always, follows its advisers’ recommendations.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, the CDC’s panel of independent advisers, plans to meet Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 to endorse, reject or refine the FDA’s emergency use authorization.
“We regularly engage outside stakeholders from the medical community with a broad array of viewpoints for their feedback on administration efforts to fight the pandemic and protect the American public, and that isn’t changing,” said a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson.
Anthony Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser, has argued that booster shots are needed to prevent infection and symptomatic disease, arguing that even mild disease can have long-term health impacts and could prolong the pandemic.
Skeptics say boosters may not be able to fend off infection very long. Achieving immunity against viruses that infect the upper airway is difficult, which may explain why the vaccines hold up well against severe infections that affect the lungs but not as well against milder cases that impact the nose and throat.
“Even if we give additional doses, the vaccines are not going to prevent all breakthrough infections, so what is the barometer of success?” said a participant on the earlier call, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I think people came away kind of mystified as to what the goals are.”