CDC director says boosters needed to protect workers

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky on Friday said she recommended booster shots for at-risk adult workers to protect essential workers and minority communities despite the agency's advisory committee voting against the measure.

The U.S. government is rolling out boosters starting with third doses of the Pfizer (PFE.N)/BioNTech vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older, adults with underlying medical conditions and those in high-risk working and institutional settings, after health regulators cleared the move this week and Walensky signed off on it earlier on Friday.

"Many of our frontline workers, essential workers, and those in congregate settings, come from communities that have already been hardest hit," Walensky told reporters. "It was a decision about providing rather than withholding access."

Walensky's decision broke from a recommendation on Thursday by a group of expert outside advisors who felt that a narrower group of people should initially receive the extra shot. She is not obliged to follow the advice of the panel.

"This was a scientific close call. In that situation, it was my call to make," she said at a White House briefing.

Walensky said the CDC would update its guidance on boosters as needed and expects to evaluate in the coming weeks data on boosters for recipients of the Moderna (MRNA.O) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) COVID-19 vaccines.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, who was also at the briefing said: "We are ready and we are prepared and implementation is happening as we speak. So there are people who will be getting booster shots as early as this afternoon."

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical policy with a focus on the Department of Health and Human Services and the agencies it oversees such as the Food and Drug Administration, previously based in Iraq and Egypt.