Moderna vaccine

Officials at the Knox County Health Department say they are prepared for what they hope will be an increased number of residents seeking a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks after the Food and Drug Administration, on Wednesday, authorized COVID-19 booster doses manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. They, too, can be mixed and matched.

Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart says the health department is prepared for what they hope will be an increased number of residents seeking a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks.

Local health officials are making the necessary preparations after the Food and Drug Administration, on Wednesday, authorized COVID-19 booster doses manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Too, they said, any of the three authorized vaccines could be used as a booster in a “mix and match” fashion.

The FDA’s decision marks a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month.

Stewart is pleased with the news from the FDA and says studies have shown “mixing and matching” different COVID vaccines is safe and effective.

“They have done studies on that from the very beginning, and changing from one vaccine to the other doesn’t hurt or detract at all,” said Stewart.

Though the vaccines have proven incredibly effective, the continued rise of breakthrough cases has shown that the efficacy of the vaccines begins to wane months later, prompting the need for boosters.

“They’ve worked incredibly well for us. Pfizer has been holding up well but seems to be waning after six to eight months, and the Moderna seems to be holding up even a little better than that,” Stewart said.

The longevity of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, however, isn’t quite as impressive.

For J&J’s single-shot vaccine, the FDA said on Wednesday that all U.S. recipients, no matter their age, could get a second dose at least two months following their initial vaccination.

“The general consensus at this point, is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should have also been a two-shot series instead of the single-shot,” Stewart said.

The FDA also authorized a third Moderna shot for seniors and others at high risk from COVID-19 because of their health problems, jobs or living conditions — six months after their last shot.

However, Stewart said, Moderna’s booster will be about half the dose that’s used for the first two shots, based on company data showing that was plenty to bulk up immunity again.

The FDA rulings differ because the vaccines are made differently, with different dosing schedules — and the J&J vaccine has consistently shown a lower level of effectiveness than either of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow “mixing and matching” of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.

The interchangeability of the shots is expected to speed the booster campaign, particularly in nursing homes and other institutional settings where residents have received different shots over time.

FDA’s acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said the agency wanted to make its booster guidance as flexible as possible, given that many people don’t remember which brand they first received. In other cases, some people may want to try a different vaccine if they previously experienced common side effects like muscle ache or chills.

Those who are 65 and older, or those who are 18 and older and live with an underlying health condition or are immunocompromised and are at least six months past their second vaccination, are now eligible to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Knox County Health Department.

Stewart says examples of health conditions that qualify individuals for the booster include, but are not limited to, chronic lung, liver, or kidney diseases; cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart conditions, HIV, or a history of organ or stem cell transplant.

Obesity, too, he says could grant eligibility to an individual.

“Many people have no idea how drastically obesity affects them,” he said. “It causes so many systems in your body to overwork and malfunction, and if you’ve been obese since childhood and you’re now in your 30s or 40s, you need to be very careful with this.”

The CDC also recommends those who are at least six months past their second vaccination and live or work in high-risk settings now receive a booster. Specifically, those who live or work in long-term care facilities, educators, daycare workers, first responders and healthcare workers are currently eligible for the booster.

FDA’s top vaccine official suggested regulators would move quickly to expand boosters to lower age groups, such as people in their 40s and 50s, if warranted.

“We are watching this very closely and will take action as appropriate to make sure that the maximum protection is provided to the population,” said FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks.

In Knox County, Stewart says the department has plenty of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine available to meet the need, and Moderna boosters will be offered “as soon as we get the green light.”

That could come as early as this week as an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took up the booster issue on Thursday, planning to offer its recommendations by week’s end.

The panel is expected to offer more specifics on who should get Moderna boosters and when. Their recommendations, however, are subject to approval by the CDC director.

Health authorities stress that the priority still is getting first shots to about 65 million eligible Americans who remain unvaccinated. But the booster campaign is meant to shore up protection against the virus.

Too, says Stewart, approval of vaccines for children age five and older is expected in the coming weeks.

“We expect that to happen the first week of November, and we’re going to be prepared for that.

“We’re really just awaiting correct dosing information, direction on whether the vaccine should be given to children in the shoulder or thigh, and those sorts of things,” he said.

Those seeking a COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to visit the health department on Monday, Wednesday or Friday — with Tuesdays and Thursdays being reserved for childhood immunizations.

In addition to its regular business hours, the department also offers COVID vaccinations the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon.

To schedule COVID-19 vaccinations, visit KCHDCovidClinic.as.me or call 812-882-8080.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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