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Baltimore Will Wait For FDA Approval To Offer Booster Shots To General Population

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a Friday news conference.

The FDA first approved the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines under emergency use authorization in December of last year; Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine was approved in the same manner in February. The federal agency granted the Pfizer vaccine full approval last month.

Baltimore City will wait until the FDA approves COVID-19 booster vaccines for the general population before opening booster appointments to those who are not immunocompromised, Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said Friday.

Currently, the FDA has only approved, under emergency use authorization, booster shots for certain immunocompromised individuals who received a second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days ago. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has not recommended booster shots for the general population.

“So though there has been discussion, there has not been full approval yet,” Dzirasa said at a news conference. “We'd like to wait until we see full approval from the FDA and the ACIP before opening it up to the general population. But it is available for those that are severely or moderately immunocompromised.”

The city’s booster plan differs from the state’s, which eclipses the FDA’s approval. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the state will begin administering booster shots to older adults in congregate settings, including nursing homes, assisted living centers, residential treatment centers and group homes for people with disabilities. Such sites have been hotbeds of outbreaks since the pandemic first hit.

Those at congregate settings within city limits may receive booster doses from the state, but city clinics, which are due to start offering boosters the week of Sept. 20, will wait for further FDA approval, Dzirasa said.

On Thursday, President Biden announced that federal workers and contractors must get vaccinated or risk disciplinary measures that include firing. His executive order, effective 75 days after signing, replaces his former decision to allow unvaccinated federal workers to be regularly tested instead.

Mayor Brandon Scott said during the news conference that he would not tighten the city’s vaccination policy, which allows employees of Baltimore City to choose regular testing over vaccination. The policy goes into effect Oct. 18.

“We are continuing down the path that we set forth and we will make adjustments as the data drives us after going through with our original plan,” he said.

Dzirasa and Scott have previously said that if federal health agencies recommend that the general population receive boosters, the city will prioritize first responders and essential workers, similar to initial vaccine rollout efforts.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.