RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some of us are going to get another shot. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for people 65 years old or older and other groups of people who may be at high risk. The decision comes after FDA advisers rejected the idea of a COVID booster for everyone who's older than 16.
NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us to talk about it. Hi, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right. What other details can you give us about who exactly is going to be eligible for this?
AUBREY: Sure. The authorization covers anyone ages 18 and up who is at high risk of severe COVID due to underlying disease, for instance - also, people 18 and up whose living situation puts them at higher risk, so people in homeless shelters or prisons, for example - also, people whose jobs increase their risk of getting exposed. That's first responders, health care workers, as well as teachers, day care staff and grocery workers.
MARTIN: And when will this happen? When can people get it?
AUBREY: You know, many hospitals and pharmacies have been anticipating this and are ready. Remember, people who are immune-compromised have already been eligible for boosters. And vaccination sites are still up and running, giving people first and second doses. So the infrastructure's there. People will be eligible for boosters beginning six months after their second dose. Now, a CDC advisory committee will meet later today, weigh in on the specific recommendations. And if the CDC signs off, the rollout can happen pretty quickly.
MARTIN: All right. So this booster is only for people who got the Pfizer vaccine, though...
MARTIN: ...Right? So what about folks, including myself, who got either the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson shot?
AUBREY: Well, right. So the authorization covers the Pfizer booster. And this goes to people who are fully vaccinated with the same vaccine. So people who got the other vaccines may just have to wait until the FDA reviews the data. Now, Moderna has an application in for its booster. J&J is also set to pursue a booster. And there's a lot of talk right now about whether it's OK to mix and match the vaccines. And there are studies happening now to determine the efficacy and safety of interchanging the vaccines. But there's just no data yet. Now, some of the CDC advisers say this is likely to cause confusion, having only one booster authorized.
Molly Howell oversees immunizations in North Dakota. She says in many facilities, it's obviously difficult 'cause some people get Pfizer; some people get Moderna. Wouldn't it be easier if they could be interchangeable?
MOLLY HOWELL: You know, if one brand isn't available, you can use the opposite brand. I think that would be very helpful, especially when we're talking about vaccinating in a long-term care setting.
AUBREY: So we could hear more about this issue from the panel today.
MARTIN: But it's - there are consequences of this, right? The whole reason for the conversation around boosters is to protect peoples' immunity, immunity that could be waning after, you know, so many months. So just explain again, why not open boosters up for everyone?
AUBREY: You know, there are several reasons that have been stated. Last week, FDA advisers concluded there isn't enough data to determine that the benefits outweigh the risks for everyone. I mean, some pointed to the risk of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, which is a rare side effect, usually among younger men. Several of the CDC panel members yesterday say the goal of vaccination is to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, not to try to prevent every mild infection. So if younger people are still very well protected against serious illness, does everyone really need a booster? That was the conversation. Now, advisers wrestled with these questions. But as more data emerged, it - they - the new data could justify boosters for all. And the guidance could change. So it's a very dynamic or fluid situation.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's Allison Aubrey. We appreciate you. Thank you.
AUBREY: All right. Thank you, Rachel.
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