The ground has been set for a new COVID-19 boost this week in Long Island, nationwide
State officials said a booster dose targeting the most infectious sub-variant of omicron should be available on Long Island this week — the first step in a nationwide immunization drive to fend off a potential wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall and winter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday approved the use of two “bivalent” booster injections that combine the original vaccine prescription and a new formulation to provide enhanced protection against the BA. 4 and BSc. 5 sub-variables.
Approval 1-1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Practices Advisory Committee came one day after the Food and Drug Administration green-lighted Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-shot booster dose for those age 12 and older and a single dose from Pfizer-BioNTech. Moderna is for those 18 years of age or older.
“The updated COVID-19 boosters are designed to provide better protection from the latest circulating COVID-19 variant,” CDC Director Rochelle Wallinsky said in a statement. “They can help restore protection that has diminished since the previous vaccination and are designed to offer the broadest range of protection from newer variables.
Deliveries of the updated booster vaccines should begin this week in New York in small quantities based on pre-orders, with their availability rapidly expanding shortly thereafter, according to the state health department.
A spokeswoman said the administration did not anticipate any problem with the supply of the boosters. It will be available in community health clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies. Individuals can use Vaccines.gov to find nearby locations.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said Thursday, “We have a very strong network of pharmacies, clinics and private practitioners and there will be any number of places people go to get vaccinated.”
Statewide, excluding New York City, administration officials said they have ordered 83,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent booster and another 50,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
While medical officials have said the original COVID-19 vaccines and boosters continue to protect against severe illness and death, they have limitations.
Vaccines are designed to target the strain of the virus that first spread in early 2020. As new types of the virus emerge, and have become longer since a patient’s last injection, experts say the vaccine’s effectiveness, particularly in fighting infection, is waning dramatically.
Updated boosters — which are purchased by the federal government and offered to Americans at no cost — can be taken at least two months after an individual receives their last vaccination or initial booster dose.
Individuals must have received their initial vaccinations to be eligible for a bivalent booster. Officials said anyone who received the only Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be eligible.
“The current boosters are doing a very good job, and we hope these new boosters will do an even better job,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of medicine and chief of infectious disease at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside. “Not only that, but maybe even in the prevention of some diseases. So I’m very optimistic that this will be something positive for overall COVID prevention and a return to normal in the United States.”
The new booster drug can be given simultaneously with other vaccines, such as the annual flu shot, and it takes about two weeks for it to be fully effective. Officials said the original augmented version will no longer be allowed.
Federal officials are expected to consider using the updated booster in young children once the children’s data is released in the coming months.
Nassau spokesperson Chris Boyle said residents will soon be able to receive the bivalent vaccine at area pharmacies, primary care providers and federally qualified health centers. Suffolk spokeswoman Nicole Russo said the county plans to install a booster room later this month in the H. Lee Denison Building in Hauppauge.
The company said CVS will distribute the updated boosters at its pharmacies throughout the state and across the country.
“We expect our pharmacies to start receiving supplies on a rolling basis over the next few days,” CVS said in a statement late last week that encouraged patients to make online appointments due to initial supply limitations.
Representatives for Rite Aid and Walmart also said they expect to administer the updated reinforcements this week.
The future we’re heading to
The process of testing the new boosters was an important departure from previous vaccines, which relied on lengthy human clinical trials.
The licensing of the bivalent booster largely comes from trial data collected from testing the safety and immune response caused by the shots in mice, as well as data from other formulations previously studied by vaccine makers.
That approach, which speeded up the process ahead of a potential wave of cases this fall, officials said, is similar to the annual federal approval of a flu vaccine. However, two of the vaccine makers are still planning to complete human clinical trials of the new dose.
Advisory committee member Dr. Pablo Sanchez, of Ohio State University, was the sole “no” voter to approve the boost, citing a lack of human data.
“I feel like this was a bit premature, and I wish we’d seen that data,” Sanchez said during the meeting. “Having said that, I’m relieved that the vaccine will probably be as safe as the others.”
Committee member Dr. Jamie Loehr, of Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, said he was comfortable voting for bivalent reinforcers, even without human data.
“This is the future we’re heading into,” Loehr said. “We’re going to have more variants and we have to treat this like the flu, where we can use new strain variants every year.”
Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of the vaccination program at Northwell Health, agreed with this view and said he was confident the updated boosters were safe and effective.
“The technology that was used to engineer the first version of these vaccines has not changed, and they have proven to be very safe with very few cases of serious side effects,” Harris said. “And I think that would hold true with the bivalent vaccine as well.”