Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says he is confident COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be approved for all Americans despite a setback last week.
On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee voted 16-2 against recommending authorizing of booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the entire U.S. population.
The panel did later vote to recommend the shots for people aged 65 or older or who are at higher risk of severe illness from Covid.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not bound to the advisory board’s recommendation, the vote holds a lot of weight and the FDA rarely goes against it.
Despite that, Collins told Fox News Sunday that he was still confident boosters will be approved for younger people in the future.
Dr Francis Collins (pictured) is still confident that COVID-19 vaccine boosters will be available to all Americans despite an FDA advisory board voting against recommending the shots for authorization last week
The FDA advisory board recommended that vaccine boosters be made available for Americans over the age of 65 or with conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus
‘I think the big news is that they did approve the initiation of boosters,’ Collins said.
‘Remember, they’re taking a snapshot of right now, we’re going to see what happens in the coming weeks. It would surprise me if it does not become clear over the next few weeks that the administration of boosters may need to be enlarged.
‘Based upon the data that we’ve already seen both in the U.S. and in Israel, it’s clear that the waning of the effectiveness of those vaccines is a reality and we need to respond to it.’
The White House announced plans to roll out Covid vaccine booster shots to all Americans last month.
The initial plan was to have the shots become available of September 20, this Monday, pending approval from regulators.
Instead, regulators pushed back the target date, with health officials saying they needed more time to make sure of the safety and effectiveness of the shots.
In the time since, many have come out opposing the boosters, including 18 senior FDA officials who believe the shots are unneeded since the two-shot vaccine regimen is still effective preventing hospitalization and death.
‘Although the idea of further reducing the number of COVID-19 cases by enhancing immunity in vaccinated people is appealing, any decision to do so should be evidence-based and consider the benefits and risks for individuals and society,’ the officials wrote in a report.
‘COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective against severe disease, including that caused by the Delta variant.
‘Most of the observational studies on which this conclusion is based are, however, preliminary and difficult to interpret precisely due to potential confounding and selective reporting.’
Two of those officials, Dr Marion Gruber and Dr Phil Krause, even plan to step down in the coming months due to disagreements over the White House’s vaccine roll out, per reports.
The vote from advisory committee is a major setback for the White House’s plan, as it now appears boosters will not receive full emergency use authorization for all adults, like the first two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines did.
Collins believes otherwise and remains steadfast in his belief that the shots will be needed for Americans to remain protected from the virus.
He told Fox News Sunday that he did not believe the authorization recommended by the panel was too different from the President’s overall plans.
Because boosters will be available eight months after receiving the second shot of the vaccine, only Americans who received their shots in February or earlier will be eligible at the moment.
The tiered nature of the vaccine rollout makes older people and the vulnerable first in line for boosters regardless.
Still, those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine – or people who got the shot early because they were frontline workers, teachers, correctional staff, or other groups prioritized will not be eligible if the advisory committee recommendation is followed.
It is a change of opinion for Collins, who said weeks before the White House unveiled booster shot plans that he believed they were not needed.
At the time he said only high risk individuals should receive the third shots – though he was open to changing his opinion as the science changed.
‘If we change that based upon the concerns about whether immunity wanes over time, then we’re prepared to start offering boosters particularly to high-risk individuals,’ he told CNN in early August.
‘But right now, looking at that data, we’re not quite there, so people should be pretty reassured.’