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Moderna, Johnson & Johnson Boosters May Soon Be Available for Mississippians, FDA Debate Underway

To the left is a person with a light blue rolled up sleeve, to the right is a person with long red sleeves and gloved hands administering a vaccine
Pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have submitted clinical data in search of FDA approval for booster doses of their vaccines, addressing waning protection from infection months after vaccination. Photo by Ed Us on Unsplash

Mississippians vaccinated with Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shots may soon become eligible for booster doses, after the companies submitted long-term efficacy data to the Food and Drug Administration.

Long-term protection from the vaccine has been a continual subject of discussion. For all of the vaccines examined, expert analysis has revealed enduring protection against severe cases of COVID-19 resulting in hospitalization or death.

But both companies have argued that the risk of breakthrough cases—where vaccinated individuals acquire and potentially transmit the virus—increases months after the final dose. Mississippi’s experience with the delta variant has shown enduring protection for the vaccinated: Now over half a year after the release of the vaccines for the general public, Mississippi State Department of Health data shows 95% of all cases in the last month came from unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Mississippians. 

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs highlighted even more granular data showing that virtually every Mississippian under age 40 to be hospitalized with COVID-19 this year was unvaccinated. The same is true for the vast majority of hospitalized adults over 40. 

The delta variant has increased pressure on regulators and pharma providers to determine the necessity of booster doses. Pfizer’s quicker hand with providing a complete dataset to regulators led to the FDA approving boosters in late September, but Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still awaiting approval for their doses.

Moderna has submitted a proposal for a half-dose of its initial vaccine. Ultimately, the key difference between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine is not in content but in dosage. Pfizer’s formulation contained 30 micrograms, whereas Moderna contained 100 micrograms.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the larger dose of Moderna, and the longer time between first and second doses, may have resulted in a more effective long-term effect of the vaccine. This is why Moderna’s booster proposal suggests a half-dose, which it argues will be sufficient to fully restore protection against symptomatic transmission and prolong effectiveness against hospitalization and death.

Approving a half-dose of Moderna for the purpose of booster shots would also effectively double the supply of available vaccine for boosting already vaccinated individuals, allowing nations with access to a surplus of vaccine supply the ability to give out booster doses with less impact on the rest of the world, with many nations still struggling to provide first shot supplies to their entire population.

A third dose of Moderna is already available to immunocompromised individuals. Free third doses and booster shots are available at by appointment at county health clinics across Mississippi.

NPR reported that Johnson & Johnson argues that their booster presented a “favorable risk-balance” for booster doses given to adults aged 18 or older. Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine was paused earlier in the year after the FDA chose to investigate a few vanishingly small reports of blood clots post-vaccination.

After completing the investigation, the FDA resumed approval for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Additional study of the single-shot vaccine has revealed no patterns of dangerous side effects.

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