Politics Biden's pro-science pledge undermined by COVID booster episode
What the potential Covid-19 booster rollout could look like
It's not clear if or when boosters doses of Covid-19 vaccines will be OK'd for fully vaccinated people in the United States, but state and local health departments across the United States are moving ahead with plans for a potential rollout next week. © Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images Reading, PA - September 14: A nurse fills a syringe with a dose of BioNTech, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. At the Reading Area Community College campus in Reading, PA Tuesday morning September 14, 2021 where Pennsylvania Gov.
President Joe Biden campaigned as the pro-science candidate, promising not to let politics impede his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the White House's plan to roll out vaccine booster shots has been tainted by the perception it was influenced by public pressure rather than scientific data.
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky's decision this week to overrule an internal advisory board's recommendation not to make people employed in high-risk workplaces eligible for booster shots was a borderline political decision, according to Republican-operative-turned-Claremont McKenna College politics professor John Pitney.
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"The decision was a close call that involved not only science but administrative issues as well," said Pitney, author of The Politics of Autism.
The boon for Biden is that, politically, "it seems unlikely that there will be much pushback against making the booster available to more people," he added.
For Glen Nowak, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Health and Risk Communication, it was "impossible" to know the role that science and politics played in Walensky's decision. But the former CDC spokesman said it was within Walensky's "purview" to act as she did, even if there may be confusion concerning the program's goal.
"It's sort of in the eyes of the beholder, right?" he told the Washington Examiner. "I think the administration would characterize that they're being responsive, that they're hearing the concerns of people like teachers, and they know that there's much concern among hospital and healthcare workers and teachers and people in other occupations."
Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all
FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care, where we're following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.Are we living in Jumanji? All of the National Zoo's lions and tigers have been infected with COVID-19. And the zebras are still on the loose in Prince George's County. An FDA panel voted to recommend booster shots of Pfizer'sWelcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care, where we're following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Nowak added: "The flip side of that coin, though, is that people are going to accuse you of being too flexible and making decisions based on considerations other than science and other than the available data."
Biden defeated former President Donald Trump last year partly because he pledged to manage the pandemic better and "get it under control." But his eagerness to include booster shots in his arsenal of COVID-19 mitigation strategies has been problematic.
Biden's approval ratings started sliding this summer as COVID-19 cases surged due to the more contagious delta variant. Then in August, the president and his coronavirus task force announced they were preparing to provide booster shots by Sept. 20, pending CDC and Food and Drug Administration approval. That approval came this week after protracted debate over whether immunity waned enough to make an extra dose of the vaccine necessary.
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Walensky defended her decision to overrule the CDC internal panel on Friday, though she underscored the country cannot "boost our way out of this pandemic."
"In an effort to protect those at greatest risk, our initial vaccine rollout prioritized these individuals," she said during a virtual press briefing. "I must do what I can to preserve health across our nation."
Biden boasted about his readiness on Friday, repeating from the White House State Dining Room that decisions regarding booster shot approval were delegated "to the scientists and the doctors."
"While we waited and prepared, we brought enough — we bought enough booster shots, and states and pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and community health centers have been preparing to get shots in arms — booster shots in arms — for a while," he said.
Biden's approach may be paying dividends, as COVID-19 cases and his pandemic job approval polling appear to be stabilizing. An Ipsos poll conducted this week found half of respondents approved of his COVID-19 management, up from 48% last week but down from 54% in August.
FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for people 65 and over; Iowa sets new 2021 high for coronavirus hospitalizations: COVID-19 updates
Health care workers, teachers and grocery workers are among the high-risk workers eligible for a Pfizer booster. The latest COVID-19 updates:Individuals 18 and up who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 were also included in the authorization, which only covers those who are at least six months out from their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nowak warned the White House may have to overcome messaging hurdles of their own creation this week by telling recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines they did not require a booster shot — yet. Moderna is expected to be granted approval in a couple of weeks.
"People can question your motives. They can question your logic. They can introduce a lot of things that can hurt your credibility," Nowak said.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices initially recommended a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for older people, including those in nursing homes, and adults with underlying medical conditions who received their first doses at least six months ago. But Walensky extended eligibility to people in high-risk occupational and institutional settings, such as schools.
But the fraught nature of the booster shot implementation is reflected in the early retirements of top FDA public health experts, Marion Gruber and Philip Krause. The pair reportedly tendered their resignations over frustrations with the launch. The FDA's advisory counterpart did approve booster shots for older and immunocompromised people earlier this week.
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Some fear boosters will hurt drive to reach the unvaccinated .
NEW YORK (AP) — The spread of COVID-19 vaccination requirements across the U.S. hasn't had the desired effect so far, with the number of Americans getting their first shots plunging in recent weeks. And some experts worry that the move to dispense boosters could just make matters worse. The fear is that the rollout of booster shots will lead some people to question the effectiveness of the vaccine in the first place. “Many of my patients areThe fear is that the rollout of booster shots will lead some people to question the effectiveness of the vaccine in the first place.