Pam Marino here, trying to remember back a million years ago when we were anxiously waiting for Covid-19 vaccines to be available. At least that’s how long ago last year feels to me in this global pandemic.
In reality, it was just under a year ago when the BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were announced and on their way. It took another six weeks or so before shots were actually going into the arms of hospital workers.
Here we are 10 months later, and now we’re waiting for Covid-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11, expected to be available in just a few weeks. Approval from the Centers for Disease Control’s vaccine advisory committee could come by Nov. 3. The Biden Administration announced today it has purchased enough doses for 28 million children and is ready to roll them out to pediatrician’s offices and hospitals as soon as approval comes.
That’s great news, and a heavy sigh of relief for parents and grandparents everywhere who won’t stress as much about in-person learning and holiday gatherings. I say “as much,” because siblings aged 4 and under will have to wait a little longer. (If you have questions about Covid vaccines for kids, Monterey County is holding a virtual town hall tomorrow, Oct. 21, from 6-7pm; use the Zoom link here.)
The other Covid vaccination discussion that’s already been underway for weeks is “Who gets the booster shot?” If you’ve felt like it’s been a bit of a fuzzy picture, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the picture is getting clearer, and will be even more clear after tomorrow morning’s CDC advisory committee vote on boosters.
Let’s start where we are as of tonight, with only one booster option available—the Pfizer vaccine, six months after the last dose. Officially it’s only for: people over the age of 65; ages 18-64 who are immunocompromised or with preexisting conditions that put them at high risk; anyone 18-64 in a job that puts them face-to-face with the public. Over 9 million people have already received booster shots since the CDC approved them on Sept. 24. (Some immunocompromised people who received Moderna have also received boosters.)
Why a booster in those situations? There is evidence that the vaccines begin to wane in effectiveness, especially for those with chronic conditions. For that reason, infectious disease expert Mahendra Poudel of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital says a booster is recommended to maximize vaccine protection against hospitalizations and death. And anyone who works in a situation with a high likelihood of exposure should definitely get a booster.
What everyone is waiting to see tomorrow is whether the CDC panel will approve what the FDA’s committee recommended last week: a half-dose booster for the Moderna vaccine, same conditions as above. Committee members also approved an additional dose for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, two months after the first dose.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said publicly over the weekend that the Johnson & Johnson probably should have always been a two-dose regimen, and some FDA advisers said it’s more of a second dose than a booster.
That being said, it’s possible the FDA and CDC will soon approve those who got the Johnson & Johnson to get a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a second dose. There have been a few small studies that suggest mixing the J&J with one of the two mRNA vaccines increases protection more than two doses of J&J. If you had the J&J, it’s worth talking with a medical provider about what step to take next.
If you’re in the age 18-64 range and are generally healthy, should you get a booster? You have to assess your own risk level and perhaps discuss with a medical care provider. The good news is that for most healthy people the vaccines are effective at reducing serious illness and hospitalizations. In other words, you might get sick, but it’s likely you won’t wind up in the hospital. Every case is different.
“Covid is becoming a vaccine-preventable disease,” Poudel says. If anyone is hesitant, know that billions of people have now been vaccinated against Covid-19 and the studies show those vaccines are highly effective, he says.
And get your flu shot, Poudel adds. With schools open and the holidays approaching, the flu is going to be circulating and could be dangerous for vulnerable populations. There’s an SVMH clinic happening tonight until 7pm at Palma High School, 919 Iverson St., Salinas. They’ll also have Pfizer vaccines for first and third shots for those eligible.