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CDC Advisers Review The Pfizer Vaccine's Benefits And Risks

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Advisers to the CDC met today to decide if any changes were needed to its previous endorsement of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. A week ago, the FDA granted full approval to the vaccine for people ages 16 and up. Previously, the vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the pandemic. With us now is NPR health reporter Pien Huang.

And, Pien, can you start with the committee itself? What did they have to say?

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Sure. So the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices - this is the CDC's independent vaccine advisory committee - voted unanimously today to endorse the Pfizer vaccine. And before that, they wanted to comb through the latest data on the vaccine. And what they saw today was that the evidence for the vaccine's benefits have only gotten stronger.

Millions more people have gotten vaccinated, and they've collected more months of safety data. And that safety data has looked at two things. It's looked at anaphylaxis. That's a severe allergic reaction that people can get after getting the vaccine. And the incidence of that has actually dropped by half. It now happens in about five people for every million doses given. There's also myocarditis, which is a rare heart swelling that affects some young people, especially men under 30. And they studied a few hundred cases, and they found that it actually resolves quite quickly. Most people who got this were in and out of the hospital in two days. So the committee is saying if you're not vaccinated yet, now is a better time than ever.

CORNISH: What more have you learned about the makeup of the people who are unvaccinated at this point?

HUANG: Well, there are two main factors, according to the CDC. One is age. Just half of 12- to 15-year-olds are vaccinated, while 90% of people over age 75 are. And the other main factor is location. Alabama has the lowest rates, with 47% of adults fully vaccinated. Vermont is in the lead with almost 80%. The good news is that there have been big efforts and improvements in vaccine equity. Native American, Asian and Hispanic populations are actually now more vaccinated than the white population overall. But the bad news from the CDC advisory group's view is that 30% of people who are eligible are still not vaccinated. Meanwhile, around a thousand people are dying from COVID every day. Dr. Matthew Daley, a committee member from Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, says cases and hospitalizations are going up and up.

MATTHEW DALEY: The current epidemiologic curve that we're seeing is really a reflection of failure to vaccinate, not vaccine failure.

HUANG: And in that 30% who are not vaccinated, some are saying, I still want to wait and see. Some are saying, try and make me. And some are saying straight up, no way.

CORNISH: Another thing that came up - boosters. What's going on with that timeline?

HUANG: So even though the Biden administration came out recently with a plan to roll out booster shots on September 20, some experts are saying they jumped the gun. The FDA would need to authorize its use. The CDC advisory committee, the one that met today, would need to meet again to recommend it. And today CDC official Sara Oliver stressed that people at risk of severe disease should be the priority for booster shots. That would apply to groups like long-term care patients and health care workers. But they seemed more hesitant about the need for boosters in people beyond that.

Dr. Oliver emphasized that the vaccines are holding up well against the delta variant even though it does show some signs of declining. She also mentioned global equity, getting vaccines to other countries, as a consideration. So the committee does expect to meet again in mid-September ahead of Biden's deadline. And guess what, Audie? Time will tell.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pien Huang.

Thanks so much.

HUANG: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.