An advisory panel with the Food and Drug Administration is recommending that the agency authorize COVID-19 booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Last month, the full Food and Drug Administration approved a Pfizer vaccine booster shot for people 65 and older, those with underlying health conditions or those who work in high-risk settings.
However, in Latino communities, rates of initial vaccination are still lagging with just 52% of Latinos in Chicago having completed their vaccine series according to the city’s public data portal.
Dr. Juanita Mora of the Chicago Allergy Center says when it comes to booster shot eligibility, the floodgates are about to open.
“We have a really wonderful surplus of vaccines at this time … and as of yesterday and today we now have the FDA green light for the actual Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson boosters. But we’re awaiting CDC official recommendations next week,” Mora said. “Right now people can get the Pfizer booster but the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, we’re hoping by next week once the CDC makes official recommendations. And we’re eagerly awaiting because it’s going to be recommendations about mixing and matching vaccines as well.”
Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director at the Chicago Department of Public Health says indications are that there are no different or worse effects from the vaccine boosters as the original series. She says Chicagoans will have plenty of opportunity to get either their primary dose of vaccine or a booster shot for those currently eligible.
“This weekend, starting in our City Colleges, they’re going to be open offering flu shots and also COVID 19 vaccines for boosters, and for primary doses,” Dr. Luna said. “But in addition to that, I would say that in our boosters we’re lagging a lot in our 65 years and older [category] and that’s the group that receives the most benefit of getting this vaccination. Perhaps only 16% of our seniors have gotten booster shots and that’s pretty much the same age which is responsible for breakthrough cases. So we have right now our Neighbors for Life Initiative … for seniors in which we’re offering boosters. And, we have also Protect Chicago 77, which is a new initiative trying to get our 77 communities 77% vaccinated, and this includes booster for those breakthrough cases.”
But, Dr. Luna notes that getting primary doses into the as-yet unvaccinated still remains a priority for CDPH.
“Breakthrough cases are not the majority of our cases,” Dr. Luna said. “Our priority continues to be primary doses, because those are the 97% infected rates visiting hospitals and dying from COVID-19.”
Dr. Mora says she’s expecting the boosters to confer about the same length of protection time as the original vaccinations – about six to eight months.
“We’re hoping that with the development of newer vaccines, or these same vaccines, will be able to make these antibodies last longer as well as building up immunity. So with the vaccines, it’s like when kids get the first polio vaccines, second polio vaccine, et cetera, it builds up this immunity or level of antibodies in our body. And we’re hoping that the more we actually do, the higher the level of antibodies and the longer they last as well,” said Mora.
And she says she’s optimistic that children will not need boosters, though it’s still too soon to tell.
“I’m hoping because they had such high and robust antibody levels in the trials similar 16-25,” said Dr. Mora. “Remember kids make huge immune responses so they might not need a booster.”
Dr. Luna says it’s too early to speculate on whether COVID-19 vaccinations might become annual recommendations, similar to flu shots.
“It’s very unpredictable because of the mutations of the virus itself. So the longer we have people unvaccinated and the pandemic happening, the more chances we have this virus mutating and needing other boosters or even a new vaccine,” Dr. Luna said. “We never know. So that’s why the call is so strong. Get vaccinated.”