Answering your questions about CDC booster recommendations

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Oct. 7, 2021

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Jill Wu
jill.s.wu@emory.edu

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Learn more about the CDC’s recommendations regarding COVID-19 booster shots.

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On Sept. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations that will allow millions of Americans to receive Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster shots to increase their protection against severe disease. In this Q&A, learn more about who is eligible for boosters and how the CDC made its recommendations.

It is important to note that COVID-19 infection continues to spread at a fast rate across the U.S., driven largely by the highly infectious Delta variant. While boosters are important, public health experts emphasize the critical need for unvaccinated individuals to complete a vaccination series as soon as possible to reduce the risk of transmission and severe disease.   

Q: Who is involved in the recommendation process? 

A: Pfizer and BioNTech first submitted their data on booster shots to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review on Aug. 25, 2021. On Sept. 22, after reviewing the data and soliciting input from independent scientific and public health experts, the FDA authorized a single booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for certain populations at least six months after their second dose.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) convened the following day to make its recommendations for Pfizer booster eligibility. On Sept. 24, after reviewing the FDA and ACIP recommendations, CDC director Rochelle Walensky endorsed ACIP’s recommendation for Pfizer booster shots in certain high-risk populations and additionally recommended booster shots for individuals at high risk of exposure because of occupational or institutional settings.  

Q: Who should receive the Pfizer booster? 

A: Under current CDC guidance, the Pfizer booster should be administered only to those who received the first two doses of Pfizer vaccine. Boosters should be administered at least six months after the second dose.

Within those parameters, individuals 65 years of age and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive booster shots. Individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 with underlying medical conditions should also receive booster shots.  

Q: Who else may receive the Pfizer booster?

A: Those with underlying medical conditions between the ages of 18 and 49 may receive booster shots based on their individual benefits and risks. Those between the ages of 18 and 64 who are at risk for COVID-19 exposure due to occupational or institutional settings — such as health care workers, teachers, day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons — may also receive booster shots based on their individual benefits and risks.

Booster shots will help strengthen protection against severe COVID-19 disease in these high-risk populations. 

Q: When will boosters be approved for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines? 

A: The FDA and CDC will review data on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available. Third doses for people with severely weakened immune systems, which are not considered booster doses, are already approved for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.