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FDA approves booster shots of covid-19 vaccines for the immunocompromised

The Food and Drug Administration's decision could see vulnerable individuals receive a third shot of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines once the CDC grants approval.

The Food and Drug Administration's decision could see vulnerable individuals receive a third shot of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines once the CDC grants approval.

On Thursday evening the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated their emergency use authorisations for the Pfizer and Moderna covid-19 vaccines to allow for an additional dose to be administered for certain immunocompromised individuals.

The move has been anticipated for some time and marks the next stage of the United States’ vaccination effort as they look to shield vulnerable Americans from the more contagious Delta variant.

The FDA’s decision is an important step towards the introduction of booster vaccines, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine advisory committee must provide their own recommendation before the shots can begin. Once the CDC has approved the measure the extra doses could begin almost immediately.

The FDA emphasised that fully vaccinated people are still “adequately protected” against the virus and do not need another dose. In her statement, acting FDA Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock said the decision aimed to "boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from covid-19.”

Who is eligible for an additional covid-19 vaccine dose?

It is thought that around 3% of Americans have a weakened immune system, which would likely affect how their body is able to respond if they become infected with covid-19. Immunocompromised status can be the result of various medical conditions, such as a history of cancer, receipt of organ transplants or use of certain medications.

The exact parameters of this group are yet to be properly defined and medical practitioners will likely have to make judgements on individual patients. The New York Times reports that some immunocompromised people may be well protected by the standard two-dose vaccine structure and may not need another, while some may not benefit from receiving an additional dose.

US could be the latest nation to approve booster shots

A small number of other nations have already decided to approve booster shots for vulnerable individuals, although there are ethical concerns about more doses being used in developed countries with already high vaccination rates.

France has been offering booster shots to immunocompromised individuals since April, while Germany, Hungary and Israel have recently introduced their own additional measures. When asked about the possibility of a supplementary dose for certain groups, White House chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci said that it was necessary to “make sure that we get [immunocompromised Americans] boosted so that they would be in a protected zone."

However WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for a moratorium on booster shots until low-income countries have managed to vaccinate a greater proportion of their populations.

Ghebreyesus released a statement saying: "I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it.”


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