COVID-19 vaccine

Booster shots for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are expected to begin in October.

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Originally, booster shots were expected to roll out Sept. 20 for the country’s most vulnerable, including health care workers, nursing home residents and other essential workers who received the first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Now Teton County, along with regional health departments across the country, is left waiting for further scientific data while COVID-19 cases surge.

“People are going to be disappointed, obviously, if that date doesn’t materialize,” Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond said Monday.

Pond said the plan has always been to wait for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Booster shots would also need to be approved by the state health department.

Kim Deti, spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health, said the pending FDA approval and CDC recommendation are “important, necessary steps” before the state looks at administering booster doses.

In Pond’s mind, President Joe Biden’s ambitious deadline gave people false hope.

“It was completely opposite of how it should go,” she said.

Last Friday, The New York Times reported tension between the White House, which set a bold start date for the booster shot rollout, and FDA officials, who said they lacked the necessary data to begin that rollout. Two top FDA vaccine regulators resigned amid the conflict, Politico reported.

Pond said she couldn’t predict a date when booster shots would become available, but for right now Sept. 20 does not look like a viable option.

Based on its licensing agreement, the Teton County Health Department cannot offer off-label, unendorsed medication, Pond said.

Originally, the Health Department had planned to administer booster shots concurrently with flu immunizations at the Presbyterian Church, beginning Sept. 22. The flu clinic will still take place, Pond said, but boosters will have to wait.

“Hopefully our masking is going to get us over a little hump,” she said, while also defending the efficacy of the initial vaccine doses.

“People that have two doses are very well protected against severe disease and hospitalization and death.”

Pond did not directly outline an expected impact from the booster shot delay, but she did say the department is closely monitoring severe breakthrough cases in the county’s elderly population.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, told The Times on Thursday that as vaccine efficacy continues to wane, more vaccinated people will end up hospitalized and dead.

The delay could also turn out to be beneficial; additional reports could indicate third doses are necessary only for more at-risk demographics, rather than the general public.

The FDA and CDC both have advisory panels, which are still debating the necessity of booster shots and waiting for more comprehensive data.

On Sept. 17 the FDA’s outside advisory committee is scheduled to publicly review Pfizer’s data supporting a booster shot. Moderna’s data is expected to be delayed even further, meaning those who received the Moderna vaccine early will likely not receive the booster within the recommended eight-month window.

Meanwhile, as Pond put it: “The whole country’s waiting.”

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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