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Gottlieb pans ‘confusing’ CDC booster messaging

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “confusing messaging” around COVID-19 booster shots “may end up being one of the biggest missed opportunities in this pandemic.”

Asked by host Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation” why the CDC is not instructing Americans to get their booster shots now, Gottlieb said the trend of waning vaccine protection is “unmistakable” before airing an endorsement for individuals to go out and get their third shot. 

“We now see very clear evidence of declining vaccine effectiveness over time. There’s different reasons why that may be the case, but the trend is unmistakable, and this has been apparent since the end of the summer. Now it’s very clear,” Gottlieb said.

“Anyone who’s eligible for a booster, and most Americans probably are eligible for a booster at this point, should be going out and seeking it,” he added.

Americans were left confused in September when CDC officials appeared to disagree about who was eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot.

The agency’s advisory committee announced that it was recommending a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 65 years and older, nursing home residents and people ages 18 through 64 who have underlying health conditions.

The panel was considering including workers with high risk of occupational exposure to that list, but it ultimately decided not to because it said there was not enough evidence illustrating that protection against severe disease and hospitalization in vaccinated people younger than 50 years old was decreasing.

One day later, however, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky bucked the panel’s recommendation and authorized the booster shot for the larger group, which included those in potentially high-risk environments.

Pressed on why he considers the booster messaging from the health agency to be the biggest misstep during the pandemic, Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer, said administering third shots could have helped address the delta wave earlier.

“I think when we look back, this may be a very big missed opportunity to try to get ahead of this delta wave, again, because this is going to be the fastest way that we can increase the total immunity in the population,” Gottlieb said.

He noted that officials, in addition to tracking total immunity in the population, must keep an eye on “depth of immunity,” which refers to “how many people have a lot of residual immune protection against this virus and are going to be what we call a dead-end host and not going to be someone who can catch and spread this virus.”

“And the fastest way to turn someone into a dead-end host is to get them fully vaccinated. There’s a lot of people with declining vaccine effectiveness right now who can both catch and spread this virus. If we give them a booster, we restore the full effectiveness of that vaccine,” Gottlieb said.

“If you go out and start vaccinating someone right now for the first time, it might take five or six weeks for them to get full immunity in many parts of the country. This delta wave will be over in five or six weeks, so we need to do what we can right now,” he added.

Tags Rochelle Walensky

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