By Bernadette Starzee
Covid-19 booster shots are in full swing at area pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and other locations, with many Long Islanders meeting eligibility requirements and rolling up their sleeves. The good news is that securing an appointment is not as challenging as it was last winter and spring, since vaccines are currently widely available.
Boosters of the Pfizer vaccine were authorized first by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Subsequently, an FDA panel of advisors recommended that boosters be authorized for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines.
If you received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine originally and your second dose was administered at least six months ago, you are eligible for a booster if you are age 65 or older or if you are younger than 65 but have a health condition or a job that puts you at increased risk for Covid-19. Notably, the Moderna booster is half the strength of one of the previous Moderna doses.
In the case of the one-dose J&J vaccine, a booster is recommended for anyone age 18 or older who had their original dose at least two months ago. This recommendation was based on J&J data that shows a second dose boosts protection against symptomatic Covid-19 infection from 72% to 94%.
“While the mRNA [Pfizer and Moderna] vaccines continue to be very effective at preventing severe illness at the six-month mark, it has become increasingly clear that their effectiveness at preventing overall illness has begun to wane,” said David Hirschwerk, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and the executive vice chair of medicine for North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
“Now that we have more information from studies from around the world, we need to act on it. That’s where the recommendations have come from. We are continuing to follow the data that emerges as time goes on for a pandemic that has only been around for a short time, even though it feels like a long time.”
If you are eligible for a booster, you are advised to get it.
“We know that the elderly and people with certain underlying conditions have increased risk of developing more severe illness,” Dr. Hirschwerk said. “The current strain of the virus is very contagious, and there’s still a lot of it circulating in our community. It’s important to be mindful of that.”
If you had two doses of an mRNA vaccine, “by six months you are probably at a higher risk of developing a new primary infection compared to the first month after you were fully vaccinated,” said Alan Bulbin, M.D., director of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. “You have a greater chance of progressing to hospitalization, critical illness and death if you fall into an at-risk category for severe illness.”
There is some controversy over why the general population is not yet being offered an mRNA vaccine six months after their second dose.
“Although we have seen waning effectiveness, two doses still hold up really well against severe illness,” Dr. Bulbin said. “The fact that the vaccines are still holding up against critical disease makes it a little tough to recommend that the entire population get a booster” when so many higher-risk members of the population need boosters and many other individuals have not yet received their first vaccination, he said.
Dr. Hirschwerk said booster eligibility will likely be broadened beyond the current priority groups in the “somewhat near future.”
“That conversation is already happening at the FDA,” he said.
In mid-October, the FCA authorized mixing and matching of vaccines. So if you had, say, the J&J vaccine the first time, you can opt for a Pfizer or Moderna booster this time around.
For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus.