FDA Reviews Booster Shots for Approval

As the pandemic continues, the FDA has been reviewing major vaccine booster shots.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines so they could be distributed immediately in an attempt to fight the outbreak. The FDA granted full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine in August, as well as to its booster shot in September. However, all three vaccines’ booster shots have been authorized for emergency use. As of October 25,  an average of 70,291 new cases and 1, 441 deaths per day  were confirmed in the United States. Due to the combination of the decreasing immunity from initial vaccine doses and the hyper-contagiousness of the Delta variant, the current demand for booster shots is especially high. 

Only certain groups of people are eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna booster shots at this time: the elderly, adults living in care facilities, the immuno-compromised, and adults working or living in high-risk settings, such as healthcare workers. Additionally, those eligible must have received their vaccine at least 6 months prior for Pfizer and Moderna and two months prior for Johnson & Johnson. The FDA also sanctioned a mix-and-match approach for booster shots, so eligible populations can receive a different booster than their initial vaccine.

The majority of the school population is fully vaccinated, and since the beginning of this school year, only two student case has recently been detected on campus. However, the gradually diminishing immunity of the population does pose a risk to the school. The expansion of the eligibility for the booster shot could affect the school’s COVID protocols. However, Dr. Zachary McClain, medical director, said, “Right now the likely lower age limit for boosters will be 40 years old, so it should not affect us at this time. Younger people tend to have a more robust immune response to a vaccine, though, so boosters may not be needed as soon.” 

Other FDA approvals, such as expanding the eligible demographics for the initial COVID vaccine, would also have an impact on the school community. Mr. Stephen McKibben, dean of community life, said, “I think it would be wonderful, especially for our families with young children, if vaccination were approved for children 5-11, as it would help to protect families living on campus, as well as the overall community.” In regards to the booster shot, Mr. McKibben also said, “If the FDA approves and recommends the booster shot for everyone who has a vaccine, we would do our best to ensure that all students are able to receive it, either at home or at a school clinic as we did last year.”

However, even if booster shots of the vaccines aren’t approved for the school’s demographics, both Mr. McKibben and Dr. McClain have confidence in the current COVID protocol. Dr. McClain said, “We don’t really know what booster vaccines look like yet; however we have other mitigating factors in place such as masking, so obviously we can use that if needed.” Similarly, Mr. McKibben said, “We’re pretty pleased with our current health and safety measures–masking in the school building and being unmasked in the dorm and Dining Hall, for instance–as they have allowed us to keep our community safe. Therefore, I don’t think we would change much.”

As FDA approvals and other new developments emerge amid the pandemic, the community continues to follow safety protocols to ensure the ongoing safety of the school population.