FDA authorizes vaccine boosters for people with weakened immune systems

Credit to ABC News/Cheyenne Haslett

Immunocompromised Americans will be able to get a third shot of either of the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer or Moderna, the FDA announced late Thursday.

The booster will be targeted specifically for people who did not have an ideal immune response to their initial vaccines, which has proven to be the case for many cancer patients, transplant recipients, people with HIV and people on immunosuppressant drugs.

“That encompasses a relatively small proportion of the population, around 3% or so of people would fall into that category,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday.

Some immunocompromised people even had no immune response to the vaccines — a disappointment considering the high risk they have for getting severely ill from the virus. For example, in one U.S. study, 44% of hospitalized breakthrough cases were immunocompromised people. An Israeli study found it was around 40%.

But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that a booster shot could increase antibodies in an immunocompromised person by up to 50%.

Dr. Pablo Sanchez, a member of the CDC’s expert advisory panel that will vote Friday on the details of exactly who should get the third dose and when, said he supported at least allowing immunocompromised Americans to get boosters while the CDC continues to monitor the data.

“We really need to help this population out more,” Sanchez said at a CDC meeting in July, when the committee met to discuss the issue.

Experts and officials have been clear that this third shot for immunocompromised people is separate from booster shots for the general public, which people are expected to need as the protection from the vaccines wane over time. But the CDC, which is monitoring immunity in multiple groups of people across the country, said the U.S. isn’t there yet.

The CDC will make the call when protection falls below a “critical level,” Fauci said.

“If and when it does — and it’s likely that it will because no vaccine is going to last forever — we’re going to be ready and have a plan to be able to give those individuals the additional dose that they might need,” Fauci said Thursday.

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