Monday, November 29, 2021

Officials recommend against expanding vaccine requirements

A federal panel has recommended against following the Trump administration’s plan to boost shots for people ages 19 to 64.

Officials have been considering a proposal to expand who would be eligible for an adult booster dose of measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccinations and to offer it earlier — against the recommendation of a vaccine advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Panelists recommended against the measures Tuesday, saying they were unable to decide whether the measures would lead to more access to vaccines. The panel is considered a non-scientific advisory group to the CDC, so the agency is unlikely to enforce its recommendations.

Dr. Steven Weinstein, a CDC researcher who sat on the committee, said it would be “premature” to increase access to the boosters and also to offer them more often.

He added, however, that the panel “strongly supports” a requirement that all states require kindergarteners to get the shot. Congress has not moved to put that in place.

Some critics have argued that vaccinations for routine childhood illnesses have been overused and have damaged children who are immunized. Public health officials have said the claims lack scientific evidence.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who introduced legislation that would require states to push for school-based vaccinations, said at a recent hearing on the subject that she hopes the measures could help get the safety of vaccines back to the public.

Dr. Robert Daum, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggested the Trump administration wants the changes to do nothing more than improve its political agenda, while it courts the same family groups that Trump has befriended during his political rise.

Daum helped lead the FDA panel and called the administration’s proposal “unusual” and “entirely unnecessary.”

“They (Trump’s health officials) know that Congress won’t pass these measures because they already have an exemption policy in the places that aren’t mandated by law, so that’s why they want to extend this policy in a way that requires states to change or require changes to existing law,” Daum said.

The recommendations come amid a national measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in California and has led to a vaccination campaign to immunize people worldwide. The vaccine is given to children at ages 2, 4 and 6.

FDA officials expect public health officials to recommend either steps to require or encourage states to approve new rules covering the boosters. It is not clear what those measures would be.

Before it comes before the federal government, the recommendations must be reviewed by the FDA and encouraged or discouraged by the president, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and others.

The advisers said it would be difficult to see the CDC require the boosters to be administered in high schools and middle schools.

Those vaccines are given to elementary school students starting in sixth grade, and are recommended for those ages 11 and 12. Many high schools have their own, separate programs, and it would be impossible to standardize those parts of the vaccine for that age, they said.

“It would be a nightmare to get each state on board,” Weinstein said.

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They also suggested that boosting vaccine coverage could improve the effectiveness of older vaccines.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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