Virginia Preparing For COVID-19 Booster Shots

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By Carol Vaughn —

  • Virginia health officials are making plans to deliver COVID-19 vaccine booster shots starting in September, after the White House on Aug. 18 announced the recommendation that individuals get a booster eight months after receiving their second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
    Federal health officials did not yet make a recommendation about boosters for those who received the Johnson&Johnson vaccine.
    Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, in an Aug. 19 briefing said several studies in the United States as well as data from the United Kingdom and Israel show the vaccines’ efficacy decreases over time, although the effectiveness in protecting from severe illness leading to hospitalization or death still remains very high.
    The vaccines’ effectiveness against the more contagious delta variant was somewhat decreased compared to protection against other forms of the virus, he said.
    In a study of New York adults, it was found that from May 3 to July 25 the vaccine’s overall effectiveness in preventing hospitalization remained relatively stable at between around 92% to 95.3%, but the effectiveness against infection declined in the same period from 91.7% to 79.8%.
    The rollout date to start making booster shots available is Sept. 20, contingent on the Federal Drug Administration updating its authorization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review, Avula said.
    “The federal government has assured us that supply is not an issue,” unlike in the early days of the vaccine rollout, Avula said, adding,“Whenver people become eligible, they will have access to a vaccine.”
    Virginia has around 1 million doses on hand and the ability to draw down another 2.5 million from the federal government, which should be more than enough to meet demand, according to Avula.
    The Virginia Department of Health will be working with local health departments to see what if any extra help they need to give out boosters.
    The CDC recommends people get the same brand of vaccine for the booster as they got for the first two shots, but if that is not possible for some reason, Avula said CDC guidelines allow a person to receive a different mRNA vaccine for the booster.
    The booster will be the same formulation and dosage as the intial two doses. Companies are working on formulations to specifically address the delta variant, but those will not be available for some time.
    Avula said protection from the initial vaccination series does not disappear all at once, but slowly decreases over time.
    “The sense of urgency or emergency is very different from what we experienced when we had no protection from this virus,” he said, noting protection “does not drop off overnight,” but gradually wanes.
    “I want Virginians to recognize that they still have a high degree of protection” if vaccinated, he said, noting waning immunity is not atypical for vaccines.
    Health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, who were among the first groups to be vaccinated last winter and spring, will become the first eligible for a booster.
    By late December, a peak of around 320,000 Virginians a week will be at the eight-month mark, making them eligible for a booster shot.
    Avula said Virginia previously has administered more than 500,000 shots per week and can handle the demand.
    Boosters likely will be available at pharmacies and health care providers, among other locations that offered the initial doses.
    Third Dose Recommended For Immunocompromised Individuals
    Not to be confused with booster shots, third doses of vaccine recently were approved for immunocompromised individuals, such as organ transplant recipients, some cancer patients, or people with advanced or untreated HIV, among others.
    Those people may not have built up enough of an immune response to the virus from two doses.
    Current guidelines are that those individuals should receive a third dose at least 28 days after their previous dose — those doses already are being offered. The recommendation is for people who have:
  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response.

Individuals may self-attest as to their immunocompromised condition when seeking a third dose, according to Avula.Riverside Health System is now scheduling third dose appointments for those who meet the criteria outlined by the CDC. Call 757-442-6600 to schedule a third dose vaccine appointment.
Just over 55% of Virginians have been fully vaccinated.
With vaccine supplies stable, people seeking booster shots should not make it more difficult for the unvaccinated to get their first dose, according to Avula.
Since the end of May, demand for first doses has been very slow, but there has been an uptick recently with the delta variant and some employers’ vaccination requirements, he said, adding that full FDA authorization of the vaccines, expected soon, could encourage some to get their shot.
While booster shots are important,“people getting that first dose is actually way more important in the long run” in the effort to quell the pandemic, Avula said.
VDH COVID-19 Dashboard Updated to Give Case Numbers by Vaccination Status
The VDH Monday updated its COVID-19 dashboard to more accurately represent the impact of vaccinations on infection rates.
The main change willbe reporting rates of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccination status — fully vaccinated, partially vaccinate, and unvaccinated, according to a press release.
Counts of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths of fully vaccinated people, called vaccine breakthrough, also will be available at the state and health region levels.
Of 4.7 million Virginians who have been fully vaccinated, 10,712 infections were reported between Jan. 17 and Aug. 14.
Unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at a rate 12.5 times higher than fully vaccinated people, according to the release.
For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit the VDH Coronavirus website, www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus
Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination clinics near them by visiting vaccinate.Virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users may call 7-1-1).
FDA Grants Full Licensure for Pfizer Vaccine
The FDA this week granted full licensure for the Pfizer vaccine.
“We at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are pleased that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to grant full licensure to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for persons ages 16 years and older. This action comes after rigorous review and study by scientists and other researchers at the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Avula said in a press release Monday.
More than 200 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been given in the United States and more than 5.4 million doses have been given in Virginia.
The vaccine will now be marketed under the brand name Comirnaty, according to Avula.
It will continue to be available under the emergency use authorization for people ages 12 to 15 and for third doses for immunocompromised people.

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