ENC health departments brace for booster decision

Pres. Biden had a goal to make boosters widely available in the U.S. on Sep. 20.
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 8:58 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Counties in Eastern North Carolina, such as Lenoir and Pitt, had been administering an additional dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to immunocompromised individuals due to them having a weaker response to the two-shot series.

The additional (third) dose, is not to be confused with boosters.

“A booster is given when the initial immune response to a primary vaccine series may have decreased over time,” Pitt County health director Dr. John Silvernail said.

“This additional dose is not a booster. No booster doses are recommended at this time, until further guidance is provided by the FDA and CDC.”

Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County health director

President Joe Biden had hoped to rollout boosters by Sep. 20, but an advisory committee to the FDA recommended the Pfizer booster be given to people 65 and older and those at high risk of severe disease.

While the FDA reviews, a CDC panel on Wednesday discussed how they’ll be administered, including how many months after the second shot the booster should be given.

“The discussions right now are specifically with Pfizer. The data that the FDA is reviewing is around the use of Pfizer, as a booster dose six months after completing your primary series.”

Dr. Susan Kansagra of the NC DHHS

Scientists have talked about six or eight months, but for the Pitt and Lenoir County Health Departments, they have to prepare strategies for any outcome.

“Unfortunately, we’re the bottom of the information chain, but we’re at the top of the anger chain often,” Silvernail said.

“Folks feel the frustration with local authorities for decisions that we really are not responsible for, and this is kind of confusing... the FDA has a very strict process to get approvals for things.”

Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County health director

Director Pamela Brown echoed Silvernail in Lenoir County.

“They have to say not only yes, this is a good thing to do, but who is it a good thing to do and at what timeline?”

Pamela Brown, Lenoir County Health Department director

Both Lenoir and Pitt County Health Departments have planned ahead as if boosters will be widely available.

“We are trying to plan as if the boosters will go forward,” Brown said.

“That’s our biggest plan to make. and then if the recommendation will let us hold off on boosters or only give boosters to a certain age group … then we can dial back that plan.”

Pamela Brown, Lenoir County Health Department director

The Pitt County Health Department has spaces in mind should there be a high demand of boosters.

“We have pre-booked the space if we need to hold larger clinics,” Silvernail said.

“We think given the way it’ll be spread out being 8 months from the date that someone received the vaccine, we’re hoping that we can handle that just through our normal clinic, but there’s not as much time pressure to get it now.”

Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County health director

The focus is not only making sure people get the shot, but also complete the two-shot series.

“We know even though there’s a lot of focus on boosters, we’re still really concentrating on making sure that those individuals that haven’t been vaccinated yet are still out there able to get their first dose and we’re still continuing to focus on that,” Kansagra said.

“We have so many more providers now in North Carolina – thousands across the state that are able to deliver either first dose or boosters when they’re available, so we’re ready to go. Throughout this pandemic, our goal is to try to make sure we have as much information out there so people can make the decisions and make it as easy as possible for individuals to get the vaccine.”

Dr. Susan Kansagra of the NC DHHS

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