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COVID-19 booster debate rages days before target rollout date

Emily Kopp, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

Two members of the VRBPAC declined to comment, and six did not respond to requests for comment. VRBPAC member Michael Kurilla, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, said he was prevented from commenting by the NIH press office.

“It’s not really the role of the VRBPAC to consider the global health implications, though of course that is a critical factor in any booster policy,” global health expert Aaron Richterman, an infectious disease fellow at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said in an email. “The FDA needs to address the safety and efficacy piece, and my major concern is that efficacy has not at all been convincingly demonstrated.”

The CDC is still collecting data on vaccine efficacy through cohort studies of front-line essential workers and health care providers.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky acknowledged at an industry conference Tuesday that those studies have not shown a decline in efficacy against severe disease or hospitalization yet.

“People weren’t getting that particularly sick yet, but … that may foreshadow that we may be seeing this soon with regard to hospitalizations and severe disease,” Walensky said Tuesday at a conference hosted by the Research!America advocacy group.

While prior CDC presentations had indicated the results of its vaccine effectiveness studies would not publish until the fall, Walensky said she pressured researchers to publish readouts every couple of weeks.

 

And yet the pace of data collection by CDC has reportedly frustrated Biden administration officials eager to begin boosting. Some White House officials retaliated by allegedly casting the agency as the weakest link of the COVID-19 response in anonymous interviews with Politico on Monday.

Walensky said at the conference she was optimistic about the White House’s timeline for boosters.

Still, the debate indicates U.S. booster policy is going to be contentious.

“It’s quite dramatic to have this degree of public dissent,” said Gandhi.

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