PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Department of Public Health will begin administering Pfizer booster shots to those eligible Saturday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans, opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday.
The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.
"We all know how dangerous COVID-19 can be for older Philadelphians, those living in nursing homes, and those with underlying conditions," said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. "With the authorization of booster doses for people who have completed the two-dose regimen of Pfizer vaccine, we can now be sure that they have the maximum level of protection, and I encourage everyone that’s eligible to seek out their booster dose as soon as possible."
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However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected.
The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus.
But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as health care workers.
The panel had offered the option of a booster for those ages 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one. But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy front-line health care workers who aren’t at risk of severe illness but want to avoid even a mild infection.
The panel voted 9 to 6 to reject that proposal. But Walensky decided to disregard the advisory committee’s counsel on that issue. In a decision several hours after the panel adjourned, Walensky issued a statement saying she had restored the recommendation.
In North Philadelphia at the Deliverance Church, home to the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, booster shots were administered Friday afternoon to office workers and the organization’s founder Dr. Ala Stanford.
"I think it as a courageous stance to take," Stanford said. "She is saying we want you to have the booster because it carries an additional layer of protection because you are caring for folks with the coronavirus disease."
The Black Doctors expect to begin administering Pfizer boosters at Deliverance Saturday.
Bucks County reports it started offering booster shots Friday morning while Montgomery County expects to begin Monday. CVS is offering boosters immediately as is the state of New Jersey.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.