Image of Rochelle Walensky, M.D.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., has recommended that older and medically compromised adults, including long-term care facility residents, and workers in high-risk settings should be offered booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.

“I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19,” Walensky said in a statement early Friday.

“This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot,” Walensky added.

Those now deemed eligible for a third shot by the CDC include:

  • Seniors and long-term care facility residents aged 65 years and older;
  • people aged 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19 illness;
  • adults aged 18 to 49 years old with underlying medical conditions, based on individual benefits and risks; and 
  • adults aged 18 to 64 in occupational or institutional settings where there is high risk of exposure and transmission.

Booster doses should be given at least six months after full vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine, CDC said.

Walensky took the unusual step of overruling her vaccine advisers on one vote. The Advisory Community for Immunization Practices, an independent body of experts, on Thursday opted not to endorse a proposed third dose for workers, saying there was not yet enough data to support the need.

In line with FDA authorization

Walensky’s decision to include workers dovetails with that of the Food and Drug Administration, which on Wednesday amended its emergency use authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to allow booster shots for a wide swath of Americans. The FDA’s acting commissioner, Janet Woodcock, M.D., has recommended that booster-eligible adults include healthcare workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others.

Unlike the other two federally authorized COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has the distinction of operating under both an EUA and full drug approval, which was granted Sept. 23.

Drugmakers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which received emergency use authorizations for their COVID-19 vaccines later in the pandemic than Pfizer, continue to work toward full FDA approval for their drugs and are making moves toward applying for booster shot approval as well.

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