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People who got the Moderna vaccine may soon be eligible for COVID boosters

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Millions of people who got the Moderna vaccine could soon be eligible for a booster. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee has voted overwhelmingly to recommend authorizing a booster for people who received the Moderna vaccine. Here to tell us all about it is NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, the FDA has authorized boosters for people who got the Pfizer vaccine. What exactly did the committee endorse for Moderna?

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: The committee endorsed a half-dose of the Moderna vaccine as a booster for the same groups who are eligible for the Pfizer booster, those aged 65 and older and those at risk because of other health problems or because of where they live or maybe their jobs. They'd also be eligible beginning six months after their second shot. You know, it's interesting. Moderna had originally asked the FDA to authorize its booster for anyone aged 18 and older, but scaled back its ask when this same committee rejected making Pfizer's booster that widely available. Committee members made it clear yesterday they still feel boosters aren't needed that broadly, at least not yet.

MARTINEZ: A unanimous decision, though. Was that surprising?

STEIN: Yeah, you know, it really was. There's been a lot of debate about whether boosters are really needed yet since the vaccines are still protecting most people from getting really sick. The debate over whether to authorize the Pfizer booster was really intense. And while the protection from both Moderna and Pfizer shots look like it's fading, especially against the delta variant, the Moderna vaccine seems to be holding up the best. So the case for a Moderna booster was, really, the weakest. And that view certainly persists. Here's Dr. Paul Offit from the University of Pennsylvania during yesterday's hearing.

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PAUL OFFIT: We continue to have excellent protection against moderate to severe disease in this country through delta and for all age groups. And I just think that we continue to send more messages out there by using terms like breakthrough and by making people feel that they're not protected unless they've had a third dose.

STEIN: But, you know, in the end, even Dr. Offit voted for a Moderna booster.

MARTINEZ: So what changed?

STEIN: Well, you know, it seems like two things changed the dynamic, one is that the evidence coming out of Israel just seemed to be getting stronger and stronger that the number of vaccinated people catching the virus and getting sick was rising in that country until they launched a very aggressive booster campaign. Now, several members of the committee questioned how relevant the Israeli experience is to the U.S., especially when it comes to the Moderna vaccine. Israel's mostly using the Pfizer vaccine. But others found it compelling. And another factor was a sense that the - you know, the horse is kind of out of the barn when it comes to boosters in the U.S. If people who got the Pfizer vaccine are eligible for boosters, the committee seemed to get the message that the FDA wants a consistent strategy for boosters. Here's Dr. Stanley Perlman from the University of Iowa.

STANLEY PERLMAN: We've already approved it for Pfizer. And I don't see how we can possibly not approve it for Moderna and not have most U.S. folks be completely confused.

MARTINEZ: All right, Rob, so what happens now?

STEIN: You know, the FDA will decide whether to accept the committee's recommendation. But that seems pretty likely, probably within days. And then, next week, the CDC will weigh in. And today, these same FDA advisers are considering a Johnson & Johnson booster. They'll also hear the results of a provocative study that mixing up vaccines as boosters may be a good idea, especially for those who got the J&J vaccine.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks.

STEIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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