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LI medical experts praise 'mix and match' booster shots in COVID-19 fight

Uniondale resident Elaine Ryan getting her COVID- 19

Uniondale resident Elaine Ryan getting her COVID- 19 booster vaccine at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead Thursday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Medical experts on Long Island said Tuesday that the federal government’s possible approval of "mix and match" booster shots for COVID-19 vaccinations would be a good move that could help curb the pandemic.

Federal officials could be poised to approve mixing and matching of COVID-19 booster shots Wednesday in an effort to keep immunity high among fully vaccinated people.

WHAT TO KNOW

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could sign off on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday.

 The FDA also may allow some fully vaccinated people to “mix and match” their booster shots, meaning they do not need to use the specific COVID-19 vaccine with which they were inoculated. 

Experts believe boosters will help against waning immunity from the initial vaccinations against COVID-19. 

That would mean people inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J vaccines would not have to get their booster shot with the same vaccine.

The news came from a U.S. health official not allowed to speak publicly before the Wednesday announcement, The Associated Press reported.

In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, allowing fully vaccinated people in certain groups to receive a booster shot six months after they were fully inoculated. The booster is available to people 65 and older, those 18 to 64 with risk factors for severe COVID-19, and those whose jobs put them at high risk for serious complications of COVID-19, such as health care workers.

Last week, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended a booster shot of Moderna’s vaccine for the same group of fully vaccinated people. The Moderna booster is 50 micrograms, about half the regular vaccine dose.

The panel also recommended a booster for the J&J vaccine for people 18 years and older at least two months after a single-dose primary vaccination.

The FDA will weigh the panel’s recommendations when making its final decision on boosters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own advisory panel that will consider the FDA’s recommendation before deciding whether or not to set a vaccine schedule for the boosters.

Medical experts on Long Island praised the pending move.

"I'm all for boosters in the right setting," said Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Flower Hill.

"All the people who are at higher risk of developing infection … you are recharging their immune response. As a health care provider, being at high risk and seeing COVID patients every day, I appreciate how we’ve been included as well."

Bulbin said it’s still unclear how long the boosters will last. There is always a chance immunity will diminish over time as it does with the initial vaccinations.

"Whether this is a good long-term strategy is just another aspect of COVID that is to be determined," he said. "It’s a story that’s being written as we go."

Bulbin said mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters has been taking place in Europe.

"If you look at the experience in Europe, they use a lot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is very similar to the J&J vaccine," he said.

When that group of people in countries including Germany and England received a booster from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, they had a "very vigorous antibody response," he said. A booster of the Moderna vaccine had an even higher antibody response.

"These are small numbers and just measuring antibodies and whether it would really translate into protection and how long, you'd have to do a real trial with more patients and over a longer period of time," he said. "But it looks very intriguing."

Another medical expert agreed the mix-and-match approach seems promising.

"There’s not a huge amount of data out there," said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, director of Critical Care Services at Northwell Health. "I think based on the small studies that are out there, it does seem that mixing provides good immune response. And especially for people who have moved places or there's availability issues or they got an initial shot that didn't agree with them — this provides a lot of options for those people to complete their series."

Narasimhan said she thinks additional boosters will be needed for people to be protected against COVID-19 going forward.

"As variants come out and change, and we know that our immunity after five or six months seems to really decrease significantly," she said. "I think those two things make it likely that we will be getting a booster either every year or every six months for a little while, until things really go away with COVID."

Hochul's message to anti-vaxxers

Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned opponents not to hijack former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s death by claiming COVID-19 vaccines don’t work.

Hochul said Powell, 84, had underlying health problems that weakened his immune system and made him especially vulnerable to COVID-19 even though he was fully vaccinated.

Such "breakthrough" cases resulting in death are rare, she said.

"His story cannot be hijacked by the anti-vaxxers" who claim the vaccines don’t work, Hochul said.

Powell was suffering from multiple myeloma, a blood disease that medical experts said made his immune system weak.

More than 90% of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 or die from it are unvaccinated, medical experts say.

The governor also said New York is getting ready for the anticipated approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, and proposed setting up vaccination programs in schools to supplement pediatricians' offices.

About 1.5 million children are in that age group in the state and will be eligible for the shots most likely by early to mid-November when federal officials approve them, she said.

Statistics level off

COVID-19 indicators appeared to continue plateauing on Long Island in results released Tuesday by the state.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing continued to slowly decline on Long Island, hitting 2.58% in test results from Monday. For much of the summer the level was above 4%.

The number of new daily cases was 175 in Nassau County, and 307 in Suffolk County, for a total of 482. New York City logged 1,042 new case.

Throughout the state 29 people died on Monday of causes linked to COVID-19, including four in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

Hochul announced 25 new pop-up vaccination sites including three on Long Island.

One takes place Thursday at Kennedy Memorial Park, 335 Green St., Hempstead, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Others take place Saturday at Roosevelt High School from 2 to 8 p.m. and at Northwell Health, 1 Marcus Ave., New Hyde Park, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

With AP

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