The decision by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, announced just before 1 a.m. on Friday, allows the Biden administration to expand use of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, but falls far short of the broad rollout the White House laid out last month. The Biden team had initially aimed to begin administering Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters to most adults beginning this week, but critics in and out of the administration argued that available vaccine safety and efficacy data only justified boosters for a small slice of the adult population.
Walensky nodded to that ongoing controversy, and her unusual decision to contradict CDC’s vaccine advisory panel, in a statement on Friday.
“It is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” she said. “In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”
Walensky also noted that her action aligned the CDC’s recommendations for booster use with the FDA authorization, and added that the agency “will address, with the same sense of urgency,” the use of Covid-19 boosters made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Moderna submitted its application for a booster shot earlier this month. Johnson & Johnson has begun submitting data on the efficacy of its booster but has not yet submitted an application.