Mason Ricoy, 10, of Island Park, with his mom Shannan...

Mason Ricoy, 10, of Island Park, with his mom Shannan by his side, is vaccinated by Mary Ann DeDomenici at the Island Park Public Library in December. Credit: Howard Schnapp

With most pandemic restrictions lifted and the number of new COVID-19 cases relatively low, many Long Islanders are enjoying the spring season with a freedom they haven’t felt in more than two years.

Health experts said the COVID-19 vaccine has played a large part in reducing the spread of the virus and urged people to stay up-to-date with their inoculations. Those who are vaccinated and eligible should take advantage of the booster doses available, they said.

"COVID-19 is never going to go away,” said Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of Northwell Health’s COVID-19 vaccination program and a pediatric emergency medicine physician. “It’s likely going to become endemic.”

Here is the latest information about COVID-19 vaccinations for children and adults:

Q: What are the COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for children and teens between the ages of 12 and 17?

Children between the ages of 12 and 17 are urged to get fully vaccinated and boosted. Primary series vaccination means two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, given roughly 21 days apart. Harris points out that children with weakened immune systems can receive a third dose, which is different from a booster shot, to complete their vaccine series.

Young people in that age range can receive a booster shot five months after completing their vaccine series. Unlike the second booster, recently recommended for some adults, there is no second booster available or recommended for children between 12 and 17.

The child dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared...

The child dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared in Island Park last year.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

Q: How soon should I get the booster shot for my child if he or she recently tested positive for COVID-19?

Doctors appear to be divided on whether fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 — and are eligible for a booster shot — should wait 90 days before receiving it. Some believe the infection provides about 90 days of natural immunity, and a booster dose should be delivered after that time, while others said there is no reason to wait and the booster can be given as soon as the child is symptom-free. Harris said parents should discuss the timing with their pediatricians, but he thinks both options are fine. He added one important caveat — children who are immunocompromised, or live with someone who is, should get all their vaccinations and boosters on the appropriate schedule.

Q: What are the COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for children between the ages of 5 and 11?

Children in this age group should receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine given roughly 21 days apart. There is currently no booster shot available. On Thursday, Pfizer announced clinical trials of its booster dose showed potential high levels of protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The company said it plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for the booster in the coming days.

A sign at SUNY Old Westbury in December. The state still...

A sign at SUNY Old Westbury in December. The state still operates a mass vaccination center there and the Stony Brook Family Medical Group in East Setauket. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Q: What about kids under the age of 5?

There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine available for this age group. Both Pfizer and Moderna have been conducting clinical trials on the COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. Pfizer was poised to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization for its vaccination in this age group but pulled it back earlier this year because it wasn't happy with the immune response. Moderna announced in March it would be submitting its information to the FDA on vaccine trials for this age group in the coming weeks.

Q: What is the COVID-19 vaccination recommendation for adults 18 and older?

People 18 years of age or older can get three types of COVID-19 vaccines: the two-shot regimen from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson. Everyone in this age group also is eligible for a booster shot of Moderna or Pfizer at least five months after the final dose in their primary vaccination series. For people who had the one-dose J&J vaccination, a booster is recommended two months after that shot.

Q: Who is eligible for a second booster shot?

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster for anyone 50 and older at least four months after they received their first booster. Those who received a Johnson & Johnson booster also are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster.

Q: If I’m 50 or older, should I run out and get my second booster?

It depends, said Dr. Steven Carsons, director of the Vaccine Center at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. “We’re migrating to a space in which there’s really not a one-size-fits-all recommendation for boosters,” he said.

So, Carsons recommends a booster for anyone 65 and older, and for anyone 50 and older who has a medical condition that could make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Carsons said “it’s probably not necessary” for some healthy people in their 50s. “But if you’re living with a parent on chemotherapy or dialysis, that’s something that goes into the equation,” he said. And if you’re in your 50s and regularly dine indoors at restaurants or go to crowded theaters, you also may want to consider a second booster, he said.

Q: What about people under 50?

People under 50 years of age are not currently eligible for a second booster shot.

Q: Why do I need a booster shot if I am fully vaccinated?

Carsons said everyone 12 and older should get a booster. The initial two vaccine shots — or one Johnson & Johnson shot — greatly reduce the chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people, CDC data shows. A booster increases that protection even more.

Q: Why are boosters more effective at preventing severe disease than at preventing infection?

Over time, antibodies triggered by boosters may decline enough that they can’t stop the coronavirus from infecting someone, Carsons said. But, he said, “We know there are still memory B cells and T cells that should kick in if there’s exposure” to the virus. These parts of the immune system can combine with the remaining antibodies to prevent someone from getting seriously ill, he said.

Q: Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters on Long Island?

The state still operates mass vaccination centers at SUNY Old Westbury and the Stony Brook Family Medical Group in East Setauket. Appointments are recommended. In addition, numerous local and chain pharmacies around Long Island have the vaccine. Go to the CDC website for a list of locations.

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