Who Is Eligible for a Pfizer COVID-19 Booster Shot?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for certain vulnerable individuals six months after the first two doses.

The emergency use authorization for the vaccine has been approved for those 65 and older, adults at a high risk of contracting severe COVID-19 and workers who are frequently exposed to the coronavirus.

The approval for older populations will aim to prevent severe disease in Americans 65 and older, who have accounted for more than 77 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, even though they make up only roughly 17 percent of the population.

Americans with specified medical conditions that place them at risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 are also authorized to get a booster shot.

According to a review from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the medical conditions that would qualify someone as high risk include cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic lung disease—including moderate to severe asthma, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension, among other diseases; dementia; diabetes; Down syndrome; heart conditions; HIV infection; weakened immune systems; liver disease; obesity; and sickle cell disease. Also qualifying are those who have received a solid organ or blood cell transplant.

The CDC has found that adults of any age with these underlying conditions are more likely to require hospitalization, intensive care and heavy ventilation if they contract the virus. The booster shots have been approved for those over 18 with medical conditions.

Americans "whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2" put them at high risk of developing serious complications are included in the FDA's authorization.

The approval could guide the CDC in potentially recommending booster shots for health care workers, those working in nursing homes and prisons, and other essential workers who were the first to get vaccinated last December.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said this group of workers would also include teachers, day care staff and those in homeless shelters.

Pfizer Booster Shot Vaccine Eligibility FDA
Booster COVID-19 vaccine shots have been approved for those 65 and older, adults at a high risk of contracting severe COVID-19 and workers who are frequently exposed to the coronavirus. Above, a shot of the Pfizer vaccine is prepared on September 22 in Los Angeles. Frederic J. Brown/AFP

"We're grateful for the advice of the doctors, scientists and leading vaccine experts on our advisory committee and the important role they have played in ensuring transparent discussions about COVID-19 vaccines," Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said late Wednesday.

"We appreciate the robust discussion, including the vote regarding individuals over 65 years of age and individuals at high risk for severe disease, as well as the committee's views regarding the use of a booster dose for those with institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2," he added.

On Thursday, the CDC's vaccine advisory committee is expected to vote on the proposal from the FDA, potentially allowing for booster shots to begin immediately.

The Biden administration's efforts to roll out third shots to the general public as soon as this week were stalled after an FDA committee voted last week against distributing booster shots to all Americans over 16.

Experts said they still needed more data to understand whether everyone would require a booster shot but unanimously embraced a plan to give boosters to more vulnerable Americans.