CDC advisory panel ramps up calls to provide COVID booster shots to people with weak immune systems

 Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stressed the need to provide booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people with compromised immune systems. 

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel met Thursday to consider evidence suggesting that booster doses could increase protection for immunocompromised  individuals - who make up about three percent of US adults.

During the meeting the CDC's chief medical officer for vaccine policy, Amanda Cohn, confirmed that the agency is exploring options to make additional doses possible. 

'I think what you're asking about is, you know, is there a way to offer a third dose to individuals … through a study, or through an investigational new drug format for this population?' Cohn told the panel.

'I will just say that we are actively looking into ways that could be done to potentially provide access earlier than any potential change in regulatory decisions.' 

Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stressed the need to provide booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people with compromised immune systems

Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stressed the need to provide booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people with compromised immune systems

The advisory committee is unable to recommend booster doses until the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to the currently available vaccines or amends its emergency use authorization - which currently only permits a two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and a single dose of Johnson & Johnson.  

The CDC is also looking into another route that would allow clinicians to seek an investigational new drug application to administer booster shots prior to the FDA expanding approval, one official told the Washington Post.  

Data presented ahead of Thursday's meeting noted that such people have a reduced antibody response following the recommended primary vaccination series compared with healthy individuals.

'Emerging data suggest that an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose in immunocompromised people enhances antibody response and increases the proportion who respond,' slides released ahead of the meeting showed.

The committee was not scheduled to vote on a recommendation for whether to administer additional doses. That could be decided at a later meeting.

In small studies, short-term side effects from a third dose of mRNA vaccines - such as those made by BioNTech/Pfizer Inc or Moderna Inc - were about the same as those experienced with the first two doses, the CDC said in its presentation.

An estimated 2.7 percent of US adults live with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC presentation, based on data from 2013. 

The group includes people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and people with organ transplants or autoimmune diseases who take drugs to dampen their immune response.

Those individuals are at increased risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.

Last week, Israel began administering third doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to immunocompromised people, including those who have had heart, lung, kidney or liver transplants and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

Some experts believe the CDC is nearing a similar recommendation in the United States.

The CDC has urged people with weakened immune systems to take precautions even if fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The virus not only poses an extra health risk to these people but because it takes longer for them to clear the virus, scientists believe infections could result in new variants as the pathogen continues to replicate unchecked, which some studies have shown.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have launched clinical trials for a third dose of their vaccine.

The National Institute of Health is also testing whether mixing vaccines for the third dose - giving someone who received Pfizer for their first two doses the Moderna for their third - could be an option, or potentially even preferable, for a third dose.

Currently in America, 48.8 percent of the total population and nearly 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer - the developer of the most commonly used vaccine in the US - has repeatedly said a third dose of the vaccine may be needed for all Americans in the near future.

He has even suggested that COVID-19 vaccines may be administered annually like a flu shot.

Derrick Rossi, co-founder of Moderna, said that a third dose will 'almost certainly' be needed as well. 

However, last week Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is not enough data to suggest fully vaccinated Americans need booster shots.   

The same may not hold true for those with compromised immune systems. 

Cancer patients do not develop antibodies at the same level as others, and around ten percent barely develop antibodies at all after receiving the vaccine a study from May found. 

A separate study last month  among organ transplant recipients - who developed lower antibody levels from the initial doses of the virus - found that the third shot of the vaccine increased their antibody levels up to 687-fold

Some organ transplant recipients did not develop antibody responses at all to the third dose, though. 

Immunocompromised people are also at an increased likelihood to suffer from hospitalization or death from the virus, making immunity from the virus even more crucial to them.

People with diabetes, for example, account for 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths despite only making up ten percent of the population.  

Officials from the CDC want to make sure that a third dose of the vaccine will not increase the likelihood for adverse reactions, though.

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