Va. is ready to deploy COVID vaccine booster doses
State coordinator says Sept. 20 target for starting booster shots is within reach
As COVID cases are on the rise again, driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus, the Virginia Department of Health has begun administering third COVID-19 vaccine doses to immunocompromised people and is ready to expand third-dose booster vaccinations to more Virginia residents on Sept. 20, the target date set by the federal government, state vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said Thursday.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will aim to offer third doses to people who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by Sept. 20. The plan is not yet clear for people who received Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to get the same brand vaccine as their earlier doses when seeking third doses — but it is still up in the air for people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot, said Avula. They may get a second J&J shot, or possibly the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, depending on clinical studies.
Avula said that the federal plan for third doses still needs to surmount a couple more hurdles, including Food and Drug Administration and CDC approval, before taking effect a month from now. Virginia will follow the federally approved approach, he said, offering third shots to residents eight months after they received their second COVID vaccine doses.
The reasons behind the federal push for third-dose booster shots came from the results of three large COVID studies, which indicate that the efficacy of COVID vaccinations begins to decrease over time, although the vaccines’ effectiveness against more serious illness, causing hospitalization and death, remains high. However, the highly contagious delta variant is testing the shots’ effectiveness, Avula said.
The initial groups of people to receive the third shot will be primarily health care workers, many of whom received their first shots in December 2020 and early January. Next will be Virginians age 65 and older who were eligible early this year, followed by others who became eligible in the spring. Avula said the largest group of Virginians will be eligible to receive third shots in December.
Previously vaccinated people who aren’t able to receive the third dose immediately after eight months will still retain “a high degree of protection” from COVID, particularly against severe cases. “The sense of urgency and emergency is very different than when we had no protection against the virus,” Avula said.
VDH officials are discussing ways to contact people to get their third dose at the eight-month mark, but Avula said some private sector providers — such as Walgreens — are already contacting people about third doses.
People who have autoimmune diseases, are HIV positive or receiving cancer treatment or have other co-morbidities that leave them vulnerable to severe cases of COVID are now eligible for third doses, following federal policy, and some in Virginia are already getting third shots, Avula said. This population is receiving a third dose of the same vaccine available since late last year because that’s what is currently available, although new vaccine formulations are currently under study and will likely be approved next year, he noted.
Avula added that federal officials have said there are enough doses for “every American” to receive a third dose without depriving unvaccinated children or adults, and that a great deal of future vaccine production will go toward doses to be sent to countries that currently lack supplies. Virginia currently has about 1 million doses available, he said.