Virginia vaccination chief foresees no problems getting COVID-19 boosters

Virginia’s vaccination coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, said Thursday that if, as expected, a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot is recommended, residents shouldn’t have any problem getting it.

“Whenever people become eligible, they will have access,” Avula said on a conference call.

Federal health officials on Wednesday recommended booster shots for those who have had the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines eight months after their second shot. Federal officials said that before any booster program starts up, the Food and Drug Administration and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel would need to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an extra dose. If approved, health officials are aiming to start the doses the week of Sept. 20.

People who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also probably need extra shots, health officials said, but they are waiting for more data.

People with compromised or suppressed immune systems, due to various ailments and cancer treatments, were deemed eligible by the CDC for third shots starting last Saturday. Avula made a point of highlighting the difference between a third shot for such people who didn’t receive enough immunity from the first two doses, and booster shots for people who did develop immunity but are seeing it wane.

Different from the first wave

The rollout of booster shots will be different than that of the first and second doses, Avula said, because while the effort that began last December started from scratch, Virginia currently has a stockpile of more than 1 million doses on hand, along with the ability to “draw down” another 2 million to 2.5 million.

“That’s more than enough for the next few months,” Avula said, adding that between clinics and private providers, there are now about 2,700 authorized vaccinators in the commonwealth.

And because people are supposed to wait eight months, Avula said that gives officials time to plan. The first round of booster shots will go to the “narrow funnel” of health care workers and long-term care residents and staff.

“We’ve got a pretty long runway before we get to the higher demand of booster doses,” Avula said, predicting that the peak demand for vaccines is looking like the week of Dec. 26, when about 320,000 Virginians will come due.

Avula pointed out that between state and local clinics and private pharmacies, Virginia has delivered half a million shots in a week multiple times: “We certainly have the footprint that would get us to where we would need.”

He added that the recommendation for booster shots is coming as studies show the protection of the vaccine wanes after about eight months — although Avula was quick to point out that protection against hospitalization and death is still “very high.”

No mad dash

You won’t need to run red lights heading out to get your booster shot either, Avula said: “Your protection due to vaccination doesn’t drop off overnight; it is a slowly waning decrease in effectiveness. And so there does not need to be an urgent need to go out on the day that you hit eight months to get your vaccine.

“You’re still going to have a window where you’re going to have a fair amount of protection — and very high against severe consequences.”

Avula anticipated that people who haven’t been vaccinated could use the necessity of booster shots as a reason not to bother getting vaccinated at all, but said, “People getting that first dose is actually way more important in the long run to getting past this pandemic.”

He pointed out again that hospitalizations and deaths are up nationwide, almost exclusively among unvaccinated people. In order to convince people to get vaccinated, he said, “We need to just keep going to back to what is happening in real life.”

Avula added that full approval of the vaccines from the CDC, which could come next month, will make private sector businesses feel more comfortable mandating vaccinations for workers and customers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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