• 82°

CDC calls for COVID-19 booster shots

Despite just more than half of the country — and fewer than that in Western Tidewater — being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone get booster shots.

The call comes as the country is surging in COVID-19 cases, predominantly due to the Delta variant, a more transmissible virus strain that poses more severe cases, especially among those who are not vaccinated.

In Virginia, just over 55% of the population has been fully vaccinated. In Western Tidewater, it ranges from 38.6% in Southampton County to 48.9% in Isle of Wight County. Suffolk and Franklin are at 42.6% and 43.7% vaccinated, respectively. In Surry County, 47.2% of its population has been fully vaccinated.

The booster shots for those who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are expected to be ready Sept. 20, though most won’t be ready to receive them until later, as the CDC says people should receive the booster at least eight months after the second dose.

In a joint statement from several federal public health officials — representing the CDC, Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the COVID-19 Response and the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force — they said that while the vaccines are “remarkably effective” in reducing the most severe effects of COVID-19, even from the Delta variant, they acknowledge the need for additional doses to provide longer-lasting protection.

“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” they said in the statement. “Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

The booster shots will be offered subject to the FDA’s independent evaluation and determination as to their safety and effectiveness, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices making booster dose recommendations based on a comprehensive review of the evidence.

State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a statement Tuesday it was monitoring the federal discussion about booster doses and planning the logistics of administering them after third doses were approved last week for people who are immunocompromised.

“If booster vaccine doses are recommended for the general population,” Avula said, “the rollout of those boosters will likely take place over several months, as the expected recommendation is that a booster dose should be given within a defined time frame after your second dose.

“VDH and local health departments now have experience in planning and carrying out the logistics of a large-scale vaccination effort, and rebooting that for booster doses will not be an issue. The infrastructure for administering the booster doses is already in place.”

People who were first vaccinated, including health care workers, nursing home residents and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster first.

“We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time,” according to the statement, “given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them.”

The CDC expects booster shots to be needed for those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and it expects more data on that vaccine in the next few weeks.

“Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19 with safe, effective, and long-lasting vaccines especially in the context of a constantly changing virus and epidemiologic landscape,” they said. “We will continue to follow the science on a daily basis, and we are prepared to modify this plan should new data emerge that requires it.”