I am no fan of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Regular followers of this blog will recognize that from earlier posts. (CDC Director Caves to Politics) But when she does something right, it’s time to give her some credit.
The rollout of Covid booster shots has been filled with confusion and conflicting information. In August, the Biden White House announced their intentions to provide Covid booster shots on September 20th. They did this without the support of the FDA or the CDC at the time. The FDA soon pushed back and two senior officials even resigned in protest of this White House directive.
The science behind this policy was mixed and most of the research was done in Israel. That seemed to incense some on the FDA advisory panel. In a highly controversial move, the panel decided to reject the need for booster shots although the number of new cases of Covid, even among the vaccinated, was rising. Though most of these cases among the vaccinated were mild and hospitalizations were rare, many did have significant symptoms.
Some experts say boosters aren’t needed since vaccines still appear to be 80% or so effective against hospitalization. But who wants to be sick, even if it doesn’t require hospitalization? Yet, the majority opinion of the FDA was that booster shots were not needed here in the U.S. and the vaccine doses could be better used elsewhere in the world.
After this initial opinion was released, an outside FDA panel hedged by saying boosters should be available for those over age 65 or at “high risk.” FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock endorsed this recommendation, but defined “high risk” to include workers who might have higher exposure to Covid.
A CDC advisory panel pushed back on this recommendation, saying young, healthy people were at low risk for severe illness, so boosters weren’t necessary even in “high risk” workers. Others argued that recommending boosters would send the message that vaccines didn’t work.
The Wall Street Journal calls the response of CDC Director Walensky “her finest hour.” She overruled the CDC advisers and affirmed Dr. Woodcock’s recommendation that those over 65 and those in “high risk” categories, including high-risk occupations, should get boosters. This means most people who want boosters will be able to get them.
I have previously supported boosters and my wife and I have already had them. We both fit into the high-risk categories, but probably would have chosen to get boosters regardless. As I reported earlier (Booster Shot or Not? Controversy Over Booster Shots), there is ample evidence that vaccine effectiveness declines over time. The Mayo Clinic has reported only 47% efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, and 75% efficacy of the Moderna vaccine, after eight months.
It is good to see Dr. Walensky willing to step up and make a decision on her own that pushes back against the weak arguments of some on her advisory panel. But it will be most impressive when she is willing to push back against the recommendations coming out of the “experts” in the White House.