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Health Care Providers Are Warned Not To Give COVID Vaccines Beyond Recommendations

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The CDC is warning health care providers not to give COVID-19 vaccines beyond federal recommendations. As NPR's Pien Huang explains, this means some people should not be getting booster shots yet, and children under 12 should not be receiving the vaccine.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: The CDC estimates that over a million unauthorized shots have been given out as people try to boost their own immunity with extra doses. This is happening across the country. Dr. Keipp Talbot, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, says it's especially prevalent in areas of the South hit hard by the delta variant.

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KEIPP TALBOT: Many, many, many hospitals have already started vaccinating health care workers with third dose - and patients.

HUANG: Talbot spoke at a meeting of the CDC's vaccine advisory committee this week. It's the same meeting where the CDC issued a stern warning against giving COVID vaccines beyond what's recommended by health authorities. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis (ph), a CDC official, said if a hospital or a pharmacy gives an off-label vaccine and something goes wrong...

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DEMETRE DASKALAKIS: Providers may not have immunity from claims. Secondly, individuals who receive an off-label dose may not be eligible for compensation.

HUANG: The CDC says it's really important to only use the vaccines as they've been authorized or approved. Providers and individuals may be uncovered if problems arise. Health experts say part of the problem has been messaging. Two weeks ago, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced plans to roll out booster shots to people 18 and older this fall.

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VIVEK MURTHY: They would be eligible for their booster shot eight months after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines. We plan to start this program the week of September 20, 2021.

HUANG: By giving a date, health experts said the White House got ahead of the FDA and CDC vetting process and prompted anxious people to try and get their booster shots immediately. Now the CDC is trying to rein it in, telling people that if they're giving or getting off-label vaccines, they may be risking their health and careers. Here's Talbot again.

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TALBOT: That is very frightening to me that health care providers are trying to do the best job that they can and now have put themselves at risk.

HUANG: And it's not just boosters. Some pediatricians are already giving shots to children under 12, before the safety data is in. Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatrician at Stanford who's running a clinical trial, says the danger there is children may not be getting the right dose.

YVONNE MALDONADO: The vaccine is a much higher dose than the vaccines that we're using in the trials for children under 11, at least for the Pfizer vaccine. So I would worry that higher doses might create more symptoms in younger kids.

HUANG: But parents of young kids going back to school are scared of them getting COVID, and reports of waning vaccine protection are making people anxious. Govind Persad, a health law professor at University of Denver, says vague legal threats from the government are not helpful, and it's not clear that the CDC can even follow through. Since people are getting these off-label doses, he wishes the agency would provide more guidance.

GOVIND PERSAD: I think one danger when you just say don't do this, in terms of harm reduction, is that you don't always give a pathway toward saying, you know, if you do this, here's how to do it in a way that is safer or sort of does better in terms of a risk-benefit balance.

HUANG: The CDC says that guidance is coming soon, once the data is available. In the meantime, they're asking people to sit tight and wait.

Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "APRIL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.