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Moderna, Johnson & Johnson Boosters Now Available, Child Vaccines Still On Way

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, answers a reporter's question on the types of medical personnel that are to be provided to multiple hospitals statewide to meet the staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at a news briefing Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
On Oct. 28, State Epidemiologist Paul Byers announced the availability of vaccine boosters for those who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson original doses. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Adult Mississippians vaccinated with the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are now eligible for booster doses at county health department locations across the state, following Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization attesting that the booster doses are safe and effective.

Pfizer-vaccinated adults have been eligible for boosters for weeks now, as well as Moderna-vaccinated adults with severe immunocompromising conditions. Now, all vaccinated Mississippians falling into a broad range of qualifying categories are eligible for a third shot. Those eligible may place an appointment to receive free vaccinations through an MSDH county health department location here.

Children aged 5 through 11 are still waiting for MSDH to approve access to the vaccine, but just last week, a panel of experts concluded that the FDA should approve the Pfizer vaccine for that age group. Shortly thereafter, the FDA approved that vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. Full FDA approval means parents of young children should expect vaccine availability sometime in November.

Booster Eligibility Extremely Broad

Speaking at a Mississippi State Department of Health Press event last Thursday, State Epidemiologist Paul Byers encouraged uptake of the booster dose. “We want everybody who’s eligible for a booster to go ahead and get one. We know that over time immunity to infection (from vaccination) may wane. The booster dose is a way to give you some additional protection for a longer term to help reduce the risk of infection.”

Expert analysis shows all currently available COVID-19 vaccines are broadly effective at preventing transmission, hospitalization and death. But increasing evidence points to the first line of protection—from transmission and symptomatic disease—may wane around six months after the final dose.

Adults who received the Pfizer or Moderna shots more than six months ago are now eligible for booster doses, provided they fall into an extremely broad category of conditions or occupations. Habits as simple as former smoking or conditions as common as hypertension qualify. A wide range of occupations dealing with the public satisfy the requirements, which are entirely based on self-attestation.

Byers encouraged Mississippians to get boosted if they felt the need. “If you think that you fall into one of those categories, we encourage you to get a booster,” he said, adding that individuals who live in high-risk settings due to multiple close contacts should also consider themselves valid candidates for a booster dose.

“We encourage you to discuss with your physician if you’re not sure that you meet one of those criteria. We’ve encouraged physicians—and given them the latitude to determine whether their patients qualify for a dose or not,” Byers said.

Additionally, all adults aged 18 or older who received the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine qualify for a booster dose, as early as two months after their initial shot. This eligibility comes amid reports that immunity from the Johnson and Johnson vaccination presents a quicker, more precipitous decline.

In addition to all vaccine brands now becoming eligible for booster doses, MSDH also announced that Mississippians may now swap vaccines, with individuals who received a dose of one shot now eligible to receive different boosters. Previously, experts such as Dr. Eric Topol suggested that particularly strong antibody responses may follow combined vaccines, especially booster doses of mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna, for individuals who originally got Johnson & Johnson. 

“I’d like to see all the people that got J&J to get an mRNA shot,” Topol told the Mississippi Free Press in late August. “Don’t get another J&J because it won’t be as effective.”

Byers acknowledged the data showing a stronger immune response following mRNA vaccination. “There has been some preliminary data that indicates that Johnson and Johnson primary vaccine followed by a booster of one of the mRNA vaccines—Pfizer or Moderna—does increase the antibody response.”

Only Pfizer and Moderna shots are available at county health departments, Byers explained, including for those who originally got Johnson & Johnson. Some vaccine partners like Walgreens and other pharmaceutical and clinical locations may provide Johnson & Johnson boosters.

Viral Spread Down

In spite of some scattered upticks in transmission, overall spread of COVID-19 remains on a steady decline from the peak of the delta wave in August. Byers confirmed that indicators like hospitalization and weekly averages show a sustained reduction in viral spread.  

“We’ve seen less pressure on the nursing homes, less pressure on our K-12 settings. These are all good, encouraging indicators,” Byers said.

Byers also confirmed that last Tuesday’s concerning spike of 1,670 new cases represented, in part, a backlog of tests from the weekend, and suggested future signs of growing transmission is better tracked through new hospitalizations and weekly case averages.

Numbers since last Tuesday have remained low, in line with depressed case counts following the decline of the delta wave. Today, MSDH announced 493 new cases of COVID-19 from the weekend, with the potential for some of the weekend’s numbers to arrive in yet another Tuesday data dump.

The seven-day average for new cases of COVID-19 is at 451. MSDH officials encourage Mississippians to pay more attention to the weekly averages rather than single day reports, which may fluctuate with lab processing times.

With Halloween having just occurred and the rest of the holiday season looming ahead, the latter of which being the source of last year’s highest spike, Byers encouraged vaccination and caution, especially for those who choose to remain unvaccinated.

“Use common sense and try to do things outside when you can. When we have nice weather in Mississippi you can do things outside on the porch instead of inside and keep the risk lower,” Byers said.

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