FDA, CDC expand COVID booster availability amid high VT case counts

Local News

This has been the second straight week with an average new COVID-19 caseload in Vermont of about 350 per day. As recently as the beginning of November, 350 would have been a one-day state record.

With both that and the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend in mind, there may not have been a better time to make booster shots more widely available. On Friday, the FDA and CDC both expanded their previous emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna boosters.

Any Americans 18 or older can now get a booster shot after six months of full vaccination, no matter which vaccine that originally was. The eligibility guidelines for boosters were originally far more complicated.

“Next week happens to be the largest travel week of the year,” FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research director Dr. Peter Marks said. “So, it probably makes sense to do whatever we can here to try to turn the tide of a potential another bump of cases of COVID-19.”

Vermont took a preemptive step on Wednesday by launching its own universal booster program. At Gov. Phil Scott’s news conference earlier this week, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine made it clear that the pandemic isn’t over just because we want it to end.

“We’re getting closer to a stage when the virus is truly going to be endemic — where we have enough immunity that the virus can circulate without causing huge spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” he said. “But Vermont is not there yet.”

The available vaccines and booster shots are not 100% effective. However, the governor said that Vermonters who haven’t used them account for the bulk of the state’s infected patients.

“The data speaks for itself,” Gov. Scott said. “About three-quarters of our hospitalizations, and about 70% of our cases, are (occurring in) unvaccinated (people).”

Besides keeping Thanksgiving gatherings small next week and talking with guests about vaccination status, Dr. Levine recommends testing. Anyone who gets a free PCR test no later than Monday will have the results in time for Turkey Day. At-home rapid antigen tests can offer extra assurance; they can be bought online or at a pharmacy.

“They come in boxes of two, so if you use them, we recommend using one Tuesday or Wednesday and the other on Thanksgiving Day to make sure your negative result is accurate,” Dr. Levine said.

He also suggests getting tested five to seven days after Thanksgiving, even if fully vaccinated. However, the CDC noted on Friday that about 47 million American adults aren’t vaccinated.

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