RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-The Virginia Department of Health is preparing to start giving out booster shots of two mRNA vaccines on Sept. 20, pending further federal review.
State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula unpacked the plan in a phone briefing with reporters on Thursday.
Right now, federal health officials are backing booster shots for Pfizer and Moderna recipients 8 months after their second dose.
The plan still needs to get the green light from the FDA and a CDC advisory committee before it can move forward.
More data is needed before another dose of Johnson & Johnson is recommended. People are generally advised to stick to the same vaccine brand they got the first time.
In the coming days, Avula said they’ll be talking with localities to see if mass vaccination sites will be needed again, though he expects doctors and pharmacies to play a bigger role in most places now that a robust provider network is in place.
Due to initial vaccine prioritization in Virginia, healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be the first to get the booster shots, followed by other essential workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Avula said peak demand is expected in late December when roughly 320,000 Virginians will become eligible in one week.
Unlike earlier phases of the roll out, Avula said vaccination capacity and supply are not concerns.
“The federal government has very much reassured us that supply is not an issue and that there is enough vaccine for a third dose for every American,” Avula said.
The pending recommendation for boosters comes as new data suggests more protection is needed to defend against the delta variant. Immunity to infection appears to be slowly decreasing overtime, though fully vaccinated people still have a high degree of protection against hospitalization and death, according to Avula.
“Your protection through 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 8 months to get your vaccine,” Avula said. “Know that you’re going to have a window where you still have a fair amount of protection.”
So will the state turn people away who want to get a booster sooner than recommended? Avula said they’ll instruct providers to follow federal recommendations.
“The reality is that some providers won’t,” Avula said, adding that full FDA approval will give them more flexibility.
As more governments and private businesses are considering vaccine mandates, Avula said it’s not clear if boosters will be required.
Those who are immunocompromised are already able to get a third dose of either Pfizer or Moderna under new federal recommendations.