W ASHINGTON — The White House’s chaotic, contradictory messaging on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots has given Americans whiplash. But more concerning, experts say, is that it risks undermining President Biden’s campaign pledge that he would listen to the scientists and adhere to official approval processes.
The administration’s latest move — a decision to expand booster eligibility that came in the middle of the night Friday — puts the spotlight on Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who overruled her own advisory panel of scientists to make the call. Now, she finds herself caught between the White House, which had been pushing for the expanded eligibility for weeks, and an advisory body of experts that recommended booster shots only to a smaller part of the adult population — and that the CDC has almost never overruled.
The communications debacle comes as millions of Americans are seeking clarity about whether it’s safe to get a third shot, and whether doing so will help keep them safe from Covid. It has highlighted tensions between the White House, its scientific agencies, and their outside advisers. For many, the move was reminiscent, too, of the Trump administration’s chaotic pandemic-response communications and frequent hostility toward its own public health officials.