By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — The FDA is meeting Friday to decide whether to recommend booster shots to people who have already received their initial COVID-19 vaccines, but some scientists think boosters would be premature for most Americans. Dr. Mallika Marshall answers some questions about the FDA’s upcoming decision.

Q: Why has this become a real “hot button” issue in the medical world?

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A: As you know, the Biden administration announced that booster shots would be available to fully vaccinated Americans who were at least eight months out from their last dose. But since then, there has been some debate as to whether boosters are really necessary and if so, who should get them. Some studies have shown that antibody levels wane over time while other studies suggest that protection against severe illness remains high, which really was the original goal of vaccination. And scientists continue to disagree about how to interpret the data and how to best move forward.

Some believe boosters should be offered to everyone, while others believe they should only be offered to those at highest risk like seniors, or that they may not be necessary for anyone at this time. There are also those who believe the shots should be redeployed to help nations who are struggling to vaccinate their own citizens, which would help prevent the emergence of new variants.

Q: Isn’t there a new study suggesting that boosters do help?

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A: A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving more than a million people in Israel found that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine dramatically reduced infection and severe disease in people over 60 two weeks after vaccination. But it’s unclear how long that added protection lasts.

Q: So what is the FDA likely to do tomorrow?

A: I think most experts agree that the biggest drop in protection over time is in the older population, so at a minimum, the FDA is likely going to recommend that people over 60 get a booster. As for younger people, there is time because most younger people did not start getting vaccinated until the spring.

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And remember, right now the FDA is only considering Pfizer booster shots. Moderna boosters will be discussed in the near future. And we’ll have to wait a little longer for J&J.

Dr. Mallika Marshall