NEW YORK – Health officials on Sunday voiced their support for the recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel that Covid-19 booster vaccines be limited to those 65 years and older and individuals at high risk, with some hoping for broader use of booster shots at a later date.
Meanwhile, a "test-to-stay" strategy is gaining popularity among American schools to help more students stay on campus, while the pandemic continues to claim more victims in the United States.
According to The New York Times (NYT), the 7-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 148,252 nationwide on Saturday, with its 14-day change striking an 8-percent fall.
Coronavirus-related deaths were 2,012 on Saturday, with the 14-day change realizing a 30-percent rise.
Support for FDA proposal
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told Fox News on Sunday that the guidance issued on Friday by the FDA panel is in line with what the US administration planned for a booster rollout, though not identical.
"I think there's less difference between where we were in the middle of August and what the advisory committee said this past Friday," he said.
The administration announced in August that a rollout plan was being put in place for booster shots that would be initiated Sept. 20, but also specified that the plan itself was pending recommendations from the FDA.
The people eligible for a booster would be those who received their second dose six or eight months earlier.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC on Sunday that the plan initially announced by the White House is in line with the advisory panel's recommendation. Ultimately, he thought the "proper regimen" will include the original two shots plus a booster for everyone, though it may not be necessary right now.
"You want to do that according to what the data tells you, including the risk-benefit ratio, particularly for the younger people who do not generally get as much severe disease as the elderly and others," Fauci said. "So, I believe that there's a good chance that as we get into the coming months, into the next year, that you will see the data pointing to the benefit of having a much broader blanket of people."
A decision about boosters from the FDA is expected by next week, and an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is slated to meet on Wednesday and Thursday to recommend how a third shot should be used.
The FDA advisory committee, following Pfizer's lead, recommended that the third shot be given at least six months after the second.
Test to stay
An increasing number of school districts are turning to testing to keep more children in the classroom and avoid disrupting the work lives of their parents, reported NYT on Sunday.
The resource-intensive approach, sometimes known as "test to stay" or modified quarantine, allows students who have been exposed to the virus to stay in school as long as they take frequent Covid-19 tests and adhere to other precautions.
Allowing children who have been exposed to the virus to remain in school does pose a potential transmission risk, and the CDC said that it "does not have enough evidence" to support the approach. Instead, it recommends that close contacts who have not been fully vaccinated quarantine for as long as 14 days.
"At this time, we do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program," the CDC told media, adding that "however, we are working with multiple jurisdictions who have chosen to use these approaches to gather more information."
"Experts agree that children who are infected with the virus should isolate at home, but the question of what to do about their classmates poses a dilemma," said the report.
The CDC guidelines mean that a single case of Covid-19 in an elementary school, where students are generally too young to be vaccinated, can force an entire classroom of children out of school.
New York City's school guidelines also stipulate that all unvaccinated students must quarantine for seven to 10 days if one of their classmates contracts the virus.
With the academic year barely underway, some districts in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and other Covid-19 hot spots have already had to quarantine hundreds or even thousands of students.
In mid-August, Mississippi had nearly 30,000 students in quarantine, according to data reported to the state. (Xinhua)