Polis Says Ex-FDA Officials Have Blood on Their Hands Over COVID Booster Delays

Governor Jared Polis during an intense moment of his September 13 press conference about COVID-19 booster shots.
Governor Jared Polis during an intense moment of his September 13 press conference about COVID-19 booster shots.
In the dozens of press conferences about COVID-19 that Governor Jared Polis has held since the March 2020 beginning of the pandemic in Colorado, he's mostly kept his cool. But during a September 13 update, he absolutely tore into Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, a pair of veteran vaccine reviewers with the federal Food and Drug Administration who recently left the agency, for allegedly slow-rolling approval of booster shots.

"We can all celebrate the news that Marion Gruber and Phil Krause have left the FDA in disgrace over unnecessary delays for the booster," Polis said. "They have blood on their hands, and there are thousands of Americans who are dead today because of their delays of the booster shot."

This verbal blast came amid a session that was mostly about process — the approach that state officials plan to take to dispense booster shots, expected to begin on or about September 20.

Joining Polis were Colorado COVID-19 incident commander Scott Bookman and Colorado National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Pieper, a senior vaccination advisor for the state. Bookman and Pieper explained that the state has separate plans for booster-shot distribution to residents and staffers at 1,098 long-term care facilities in the state (clinics will be set up at the centers themselves) and the general population (inoculations will be available at pharmacies and other locations that have been doling out doses for months). The state will have enough vaccine available to give boosters to every person who's been immunized to date, and while officials doubt that 100 percent of this population will take advantage of the opportunity, supply estimated at nearly 650,000 shots per week should be able to keep up with even that level of demand.

People in their seventies and eighties, as well as folks who are immunocompromised, have been receiving boosters for a few weeks, though not in big numbers. As of today, Polis calculated that 72,957 Coloradans, or about 2.4 percent of the eligible population, have already been given a booster shot.

The necessity of boosters was called into question earlier today in an article in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet. As noted by CNBC, the piece concludes that most people don't need a booster. "Current evidence does not...appear to show a need for boosting in the general population, in which efficacy against severe disease remains high," it reads, adding that wide-scale booster distribution is "not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic."

Among the scientists who contributed to the Lancet study were Gruber and Krause, and in Polis's view, their participation immediately calls the conclusion into question. Even though he acknowledged that boosters appear to be less vital for people younger than sixty, they may still reduce the number of mild-to-moderate cases and prevent other infections from becoming either serious or life-threatening. Meanwhile, he added, boosters for those over sixty are key to preventing the most dire outcomes. Polis contended that boosters have shown "some advantage for all cohorts," and that if shots "had been administered a month or two ago, the casualties would have been much lower."

He added, "The FDA needs to get out of their ivory tower and realize there's a real-life pandemic and we have the ability to end it. But we need to show the will to end it."

Toward the end of a brief question-and-answer session, Polis underscored this point by offering praise to an unexpected individual: former president Donald Trump. "To put things in perspective, there's a lot that President Trump got wrong about the pandemic, but also something he got right" — Operation Warp Speed, which cut red tape in order to speed the emergency approval of vaccines. Had he not taken this tack, Polis suggested, "the FDA would have delayed it more."

President Joe Biden needs to display similar leadership now in order to make sure the FDA doesn't succeed in using "circular reasoning to further delay the booster."

The governor can soon make that point in person: Biden is visiting Colorado on September 14.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts