CDC panel backs Moderna, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel recommended the agency allow Moderna and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine booster doses to be administered, the latest step toward expanding access to extra doses nationwide. 

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) advised widening booster accessibility to people who initially received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson after the CDC previously approved the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for specific populations.

The panel, in a 15-0 vote, endorsed a third shot for certain populations at least six months after their second dose of an mRNA vaccine, either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. It also unanimously suggested allowing a second dose for all adults who initially received Johnson & Johnson at least two months after their first shot. 

The vote brings recommendations for Moderna recipients in line with those who got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Under the recommendations, mRNA vaccine recipients who are older than 65, adults in long-term care settings and who are aged 50 to 64 with specific underlying medical conditions "should receive" a booster shot. 

The ACIP also advised that mRNA vaccine recipients under 50 with specific underlying medical conditions and under 65 at increased risk of exposure due to their occupation be permitted to receive a booster dose. 

Concerns about the vaccines' waning immunity over time have sparked the push for additional doses to be administered to those most at risk of serious cases of COVID-19 to offer them more protection against the deadly virus. Experts still consider the vaccines to be highly effective, especially against hospitalization and deaths.

The committee's endorsement of booster doses comes a day after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended its emergency use authorization to permit Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and mix-and-match booster doses. 

Mix-and-match boosters entered the discussion after a preprint study from the National Institutes of Health found receiving a different FDA-authorized vaccine as a booster was safe and effective. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will next consider the committee's suggestions before making a ruling. 

Walensky could decide to alter the ACIP's advice, like last month when she strayed from its recommendations for Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots, expanding access to those at risk of infection due to their jobs.

If she approves the other two boosters, about 99 million Americans in total will be considered eligible to get a booster.

Immunocompromised people were approved to get a third Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot two months earlier.

Early in the ACIP meeting, Walensky addressed the panel and encouraged them to issue guidance that would protect the most people.  

"These past 20 months have taught us many things but mostly to have humility," she said. "We are constantly learning about this virus, growing the evidence base and accumulating more data."

"None of us individually can predict what may happen next, and none of us individually can know exactly what to do, but together we can be prepared and make the best recommendations to protect the greatest number of people," Walensky added.

The Biden administration previously unveiled its plan to launch a booster shot program for all three authorized vaccines starting Sept. 20. But some experts condemned the announcement as getting ahead of the FDA and CDC, although officials have said the program depended on the agencies' approval for booster doses.  

Up next, an advisory committee for the FDA is slated to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine data on children aged 5 to 11 on Tuesday.