Nurse Marlene Quinn administers a booster COVID-19 shot to Maureen Hallahan,...

Nurse Marlene Quinn administers a booster COVID-19 shot to Maureen Hallahan, of St. James, at Stony Brook University Research and Development Park on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Medical experts on Long Island on Friday praised the decision by U.S. regulators to open up COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, saying it was overdue and would help clear up widespread confusion over who was eligible for the extra shots.

The approval came late Friday when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, endorsed a recommendation from her agency's scientific advisers. The CDC advisers said anyone 18 and older could choose a booster of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and pointed out that people 50 and older should certainly get one.

The CDC decision expands the government’s campaign to shore up protection and get ahead of rising coronavirus cases that may worsen with the holidays.

The move comes as the virus continues to spread across Long Island, with more than 1,000 new daily cases Thursday.

Pfizer and Moderna announced the Food and Drug Administration’s Friday morning decision after at least 10 states had started offering boosters to all adults. The latest action will simplify what had been a confusing list of who’s eligible by allowing anyone 18 or older to choose either company’s booster six months after their last dose — regardless of which vaccine they had first.

CDC scientific advisers supported the move Friday afternoon after discussing the safety and usefulness of boosters in even healthy young adults.

The approval means tens of millions more Americans could have three doses of protection ahead of the new year. Anyone who got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine could already get a booster.

What to know

  • The CDC approves booster shots for all adults 18 and older, expanding the government’s campaign to shore up protection and get ahead of rising coronavirus cases.
  • Tens of millions more Americans can now have three doses of protection ahead of the new year. Anyone who got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine could already get a booster.
  • The CDC decision comes as the virus continues to spread across Long Island, with more than 1,000 new daily cases Thursday.
  • Experts agree that the vaccine's protection wanes over time. A growing number of people are past the six month minimum for getting a booster, with some as far out as 11 months.

Dr. Luis Marcos, an infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Medicine, said approving boosters for everyone over 18 was a "wonderful" idea that was coming at a "perfect time" as the holiday season was underway.

"It makes things more clear for the people, because there was some confusion about who can get a booster," he said. "With this decision the message to the people is much more clear."

Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious disease for the Northwell health care system, said the approval was "long overdue."

"I've been personally hoping that this would happen for many, many weeks," he said. "The initial series is clearly waning, breakthrough cases are becoming much, much, more common, and from my way of thinking about it, you are not fully vaccinated unless you’ve got the booster."

Many 6 months past first shot

A growing number of people are past the six month minimum for getting a booster, he noted, with some as far out as 11 months.

"If people get their boosters now at least they’ll be set for Christmas, and that’s a good thing," he said.

Dr. Alan M. Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Flower Hill, said the booster approval was good news — and that he expected COVID-19 booster shots to become a permanent fixture in our lives, like seasonal flu shots.

"I really think that is probably where this is headed," he said, noting that the vaccines "do lose their potency."

Although boosters are a good idea, the ultimate solution to ending the pandemic is getting more people vaccinated in the first place, he said. The vast majority of new cases are among unvaccinated people, he said.

But it appears unlikely the virus will be wiped out because not enough people are getting vaccinated, he said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. offer strong protection against severe illness, including hospitalization and death, without boosters. However protection against infection can wane with time. Previously, the government had cleared boosters of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, as well as the similar Moderna vaccine, only for vulnerable groups, including older Americans and people with chronic health problems.

But Pfizer last week asked the FDA to expand that decision to everyone, citing new data from a study of 10,000 people. Ultimately, the FDA decided there was enough evidence, from studies and real-world use of boosters, to back the expansion for both Pfizer and Moderna.

"Streamlining the eligibility criteria and making booster doses available to all individuals 18 years of age and older will also help to eliminate confusion about who may receive a booster dose and ensure booster doses are available to all who may need one," FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said.

Cases climbing nationwide

The move to expand comes as new COVID-19 cases have climbed steadily over the last two weeks, especially in states where colder weather is driving people indoors.

Sparked by those worrying trends, some states didn’t wait for federal officials to act. Utah and Massachusetts were the latest states to announce in the past week that they’re opening boosters to all adults.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week essentially encouraged anyone who thinks they need the booster to get it.

COVID-19 indicators continued to rise on Long Island amid what medical experts say is a holiday season surge.

The number of new daily cases in test results from Thursday was 407 in Nassau and 621 in Suffolk, for a total of 1,028. New York City logged 1,541 new cases.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing continued a steady rise on Long Island, hitting 3.84%. It was close to 2% a few weeks ago.

Across the state, 33 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including one in Nassau and two in Suffolk.

Johnnie O'Neal, of Port Jefferson, receives a booster shot of the COVID-19...

Johnnie O'Neal, of Port Jefferson, receives a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at Stony Brook University Research and Development Park on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday praised the FDA's decision on boosters for all adults and encouraged New Yorkers to get it.

"The vaccine is safe, free and the best way to prevent the spread of this deadly virus in our communities as we head into the colder months," she said in a Saturday morning statement. "If you want to protect yourself and loved ones from COVID-19, get the vaccine. If you are vaccinated already, get the booster."

Speaking after the Saturday afternoon ribbon-cutting at the UBS Arena in Elmont, Hochul said she couldn’t predict when the school masking mandate would be lifted.

A state health panel on Thursday approved renewing the emergency regulation requiring face coverings in schools and other places; the emergency measure was set to expire Wednesday.

Hochul urged parents to "please get all the kids vaccinated, 5-to-11-year-olds," because vaccinations of children would help lead to the day when masks were no longer required.

"We’re not there yet until we get children vaccinated and make sure we get better numbers, because we’re not where need to be in terms of the number of kids vaccinated," she said.

Only 7.5% of Long Island children age 5 to 11 had received one dose of the vaccine, and 10.7% of kids of that age statewide had, according to state Health Department data as of Thursday.

Boosters for everyone was the Biden administration’s original goal. But in September, a panel of FDA advisers voted overwhelmingly against that idea based on the vaccines’ continued effectiveness in most age groups. Instead they endorsed an extra Pfizer dose only for the most vulnerable.

Benefits outweigh risks

Last month, backed by its advisory panel, the FDA cleared Moderna boosters — using half the dose that people received with the first two shots — for the same vulnerable groups.

Regulators concluded the overall benefits of added protection outweighed risks of rare side effects from Moderna's or Pfizer's vaccine, such as a type of heart inflammation seen mostly in young men.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech studied 10,000 adults of all ages and found that a booster restored protection against symptomatic infections to about 95% even while the extra-contagious delta variant was surging.

More than 195 million Americans are fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 30 million already have received a booster.

Marcos, of Stony Brook, said he was seeing many COVID-19 cases in the hospital of unvaccinated people, and that they should get the shots. Bulbin added it had become a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," since they accounted for the vast majority of new cases.

Before the expansion, people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations were eligible for a third dose if they were elderly or at high risk of COVID-19 because of health problems or their jobs or living conditions. Because a single J&J shot hasn’t proven as effective as its two-dose competitors, any J&J recipient can get a booster after two months.

But because many vaccine sites don’t check qualifications people who don’t meet the criteria could score an extra shot.

With David Olson and AP

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