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Researcher encourages leaders to focus on vaccinating unvaccinated people for COVID-19, instead of boosters

AMR Knoxville is getting ready to launch a new vaccine trial, and it comes in pill form.

KNOXVILLE, Md. — An advisory board voted against recommending COVID-19 booster shots for most Americans on Friday but endorsed the extra vaccine dose only for those who are at least 65 years old or run a high risk of severe disease.

The panel voted 16 to 3 against the plan from President Joe Biden's administration that would have given booster shots made by Pfizer to most Americans. Members of that panel expressed frustration, saying the company provided little data on the safety of the shots.

The FDA will consider the group’s advice and make its own decision, probably within days. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to weigh in next week.

New data out of Israel indicates an additional Pfizer shot gave 10 times more protection against COVID-19 and severe disease, but officials on the board said the data was not back by enough evidence to show that it would be safe for Americans.

Dr. Bill Smith works on vaccine trials for Alliance for Multispecialty Research (AMR) in Knoxville. Since Tennessee’s main problem is with the unvaccinated, he said, it’s time to shift focus.

"There were two studies that came out this week that would suggest that you needed a booster but once again they have not had a chance to analyze that data and determine what the flaws are in that data and how reliable it really is," Smith said.

Tennessee has the highest infection rate in the U.S. and hospitals across the state are filled with the unvaccinated.

"Probably more important for our community is to get the unvaccinated vaccinated rather than stay so focused on boosters,” Smith said.

The research team at AMR Knoxville is working on a way to do that by studying a friendlier form of inoculation.

"We are very hopeful that this oral vaccine, if it proves to be effective, will also help to convince some of the unvaccinated to go ahead. We as a culture are fairly comfortable taking [oral medicine] versus some of the injections," Smith said.

They will soon start clinical trials of the pills in Knoxville soon, he said. They are currently in the recruitment phase.

"The low dose, they take one and then 30 days later they take another one. In a higher dose group, they take several pills and then in 30 days they take them and they're tiny little pills," Smith said.

He warned communities may start to see new strains of the virus that are resistant to current vaccines as COVID-19 continues to mutate like many other viruses.

"I think it will be very important for people to continue to participate in these studies, so that we can have the information we need to evaluate the response of the virus to the different vaccines and be sure we stay ahead of them," he said.

Dr. Smith said spots in the paid trial are filling up fast. To see if you are eligible, click here or call 865-306-DRUG.

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