Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Friday endorsed COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for those at-risk for severe infection, clearing the way for millions to get a third dose of Pfizer's vaccine.
Walensky also overruled a key vaccine panel at her own agency and went further with her recommendation, adding that essential workers could also seek out a booster shot.
"As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact," Walensky said in a statement. "At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good."
Officially, the new CDC guidance released Friday says that people aged 65 and older and those who live in long-term care facilities, as well as people aged 50 to 64 with an underlying medical condition "should" seek out a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine six months after their final shot. In addition, people aged 18-49 who have underlying medical conditions and anyone who is at an increased risk for COVID-19 because of their jobs "may" seek a booster six months after their second shot.
Walensky's guidance came less than a day after the advisory panel recommended boosters to people aged 64 and older, those in long-term care facilities and those with underlying health conditions. The panel did not offer any guidance for essential workers.
However, Walensky's guidance is consistent with the Food and Drug Administration, which updated its guidance on Wednesday to say that those at increased risk for COVID-19 infection should be eligible for a booster.
"The FDA amended the EUA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to allow for a booster dose in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others," said acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock.
Friday's guidance only affects those who have received the Pfizer vaccine. Officials say guidance for those who received the Moderna vaccine will likely come in the coming weeks.
The FDA and CDC have already approved booster shots for those who have received mRNA vaccines and who are immunocompromised. That guidance was released in August.