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CDC director: Booster shots were expanded 'to stay ahead of the virus'

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks at a

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks at a Senate hearing in May. Credit: The Hill / Greg Nash via Bloomberg

The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday defended the agency’s move to expand the eligibility for booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to front-line workers, saying the move announced last week was meant "to stay ahead of the virus."

Last Friday, the CDC formally recommended a third Pfizer shot for people over 65, those with underlying medical conditions, and front-line workers including teachers and transit workers who may be at higher risk of exposure to the virus because of their jobs.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appearing on CBS’s "Face the Nation," said the decision to override a CDC panel’s earlier recommendation to limit a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine only to seniors and those with health conditions came down to a "scientific close call."

"Because of all the evidence we reviewed both of the [Food and Drug Administration] and at the CDC, I felt it was appropriate for those people to also be eligible for boosters," Walensky said. "That includes people in homeless shelters, people in group homes, people in prisons, but also importantly are people who work with vulnerable communities. So, our health care workers, our teachers, our grocery workers, our public transportation employees."

The Biden administration initially sought to provide boosters for the general population starting this fall, but the CDC panel’s recommendation curtailed that plan.

Walensky, asked about the CDC’s plans to recommend boosters for the general eligible population, said Sunday: "We are evaluating this science in real time. We are meeting every several weeks now to evaluate the science."

In New York, Monday is the deadline for health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes to receive at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of day or face losing their jobs.

Staff at home care, hospice and adult care facilities have until October 7.

Gov. Kathy Hochul visited an influential African-American church in Brooklyn on Sunday to discuss the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Jesus taught us to love one another and how do you show that love but to care about each other enough to say, please get the vaccine because I love you and I want you to live," Hochul told members of the Christian Cultural Center, according to a transcript released by her office. "I need every one of you. I need you to let them know that this is how we can fight this pandemic, come back to normal and then start talking about the real issues that we have to — fighting systemic racial injustice which exists today."

According to the CDC, 183.7 million people — or 55.3% of the U.S. population — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Over 213 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In New York State, the number of fully vaccinated people ranges from 61.7% to 63.2% of the population depending on the metrics used by the state and federal government.

Hochul has said she is prepared to issue a state of emergency if severe staff shortages occur in hospitals and nursing homes after the Monday deadline. She is considering several options including deploying medically trained National Guard troops, bringing medical professionals out of retirement and allowing people with medical licenses from other states and countries to practice in New York.

Statistics released by the state on Sunday show the number of COVID-19 cases across the state and on Long Island has remained fairly steady.

There were 4,314 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported to the state on Saturday out of 180,612 results, including 272 cases in Nassau County and 409 new cases in Suffolk County.

The seven-day average of new positive COVID-19 cases across the state was 2.71% on Saturday,

That figure is slightly higher for Long Island, at 3.40% on Saturday and 3.49% on Friday.

The state recorded 31 additional deaths due to COVID-19 on Saturday including two in Nassau County and two in Suffolk County.

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