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Moderna COVID-19 booster shots with lower dose endorsed by FDA panel

Millions who got their initial Pfizer shots at least six months ago have already received a booster of that brand.

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel met Thursday and unanimously recommended lower-dose boosters of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for seniors and other high-risk groups. 

The panel is scheduled to consider Johnson & Johnson's vaccine booster on Friday, and whether it's safe to get a booster shot of a different brand than your initial vaccine.

Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine is the only one with the FDA's thumbs up, but even then boosters of the Pfizer shot are only approved for certain Americans, such as those over 65, those with underlying health conditions, or frontline workers whose jobs put them at increased risk of contracting COVID.

Both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson's vaccines are currently authorized by the FDA for use in people 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is approved for Americans 12 and up.

The Moderna shot was the first on the table Thursday. Moderna asked the FDA for approval of a booster shot six months after the second dose, similar to Pfizer's request. 

As for the dose, initial Moderna vaccination consists of two 100-microgram shots. But Moderna says a single 50-microgram shot should be enough for a booster.

The Johnson & Johnson booster is up for discussion Friday. They've requested approval for a booster as early as two months after the one-dose vaccine.

This week's meetings are the first step in the approval process. Based off the advisory panel's recommendations, the FDA will then decide whether to authorize the boosters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then have the final say.

The FDA panel backed Pfizer's boosters for select populations on Sept. 17. Five days later, the FDA authorized the shot, and on Sept. 24, CDC director Rochelle Walensky signed off.

Another interesting debate expected during Friday's meeting is about whether it's safe and effective for people to get a booster shot of a different brand than that of their original vaccine dose(s).  

A preliminary study out earlier this week from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed that mixing and matching boosters with initial vaccine doses might even be more beneficial for those who got the Johnson & Johnson shot. Results showed that people who got the initial J&J vaccine had higher immune responses with a different brand booster than with an additional Johnson & Johnson shot.

"The available data make clear that protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in certain populations begins to decrease over time, so it’s important to evaluate the information on the use of booster doses in various populations,” the FDA's Peter Marks said in a press release.

Later this month, the same FDA advisory committee will meet to discuss approving Pfizer's vaccine for children ages 5-11.