State officials are encouraging people with multiple co-morbidities and older residents — especially those over 65 — to get a second booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, recently approved for those 50 and older.
But for now, officials are not considering mandating second booster shots for nursing home staff and other long-term care facility workers.
In January, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring those employees and any contractors who work with nursing homes get a COVID-19 booster shot.
“I do not anticipate that we are going to be moving in that direction,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, Connecticut’s public health commissioner, said Thursday.
“The older you are, the more likely I’d say you should go out and get it,” she said. “If you’re a 50-year-old and you’ve got diabetes, hypertension, COPD, and lymphoma … you may functionally not be a 50-year-old. Functionally, you might be much older.
“I think for the younger age groups of those who are eligible, there is certainly less urgency. The only urgency I see is that we may have somewhat of a spike or surge coming up over the next several weeks. So getting a shot may be another way to just protect yourself a little bit further.”
People who get a second booster now should still be able to receive a third booster in the fall, should one be recommended at that time, Juthani said.
“If you were to get it sometime now, before whatever surge might be coming up … you [also] could get a COVID booster in September or October and be within that window when you would need your booster dose anyway,” she said. “Getting it now, either your first or your second booster, you should still be able to get a booster in the fall.”
Nursing home executives said they favor second boosters for qualifying residents of long-term care facilities. Another round of on-site clinics could be organized in the coming weeks.
“The nursing home industry and long term care community is going to be strongly supportive of the second booster for the residents they serve,” said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents 145 nursing homes. “It offers maximum protection. For the vulnerable population that we serve, the vaccine has demonstrated in study after study that it lessens the severity of illness.”
CDC, FDA give OK
Adults 50 and older are now eligible to receive a second COVID-19 booster shot made by Pfizer or Moderna, following authorizations this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People 12 and older with immune deficiencies also qualify for a second booster, including those who are receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood, those who got a stem cell transplant within the last two years and those who received a solid organ transplant and are taking medication to suppress the immune system.
People in eligible age groups or with qualifying medical conditions can get the second booster at least four months after they received the first. Those who got two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can also seek a booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots.
“What we’re seeing as we go through this pandemic and we monitor people’s immunity is that immunity does wane,” Juthani said in an interview. “Initially, it was six months after you get a shot, then you can get a booster. Then it became five months. Now we’re talking about four months. So I think what we’re trying to find is that sweet spot where we can have the most durable immunity, depending on what type of population you are.”
Unlike last fall, when people were strongly urged to get a booster shot as the highly contagious omicron variant arrived in the U.S., state and federal officials have framed the latest round of boosters as a choice that eligible people may want to pursue. Part of that is due to the so-far unknown influence of BA.2, a subvariant of omicron that could cause another swell in cases here in the coming weeks or months.
BA.2, considered even more contagious than omicron, is now the dominant version of the virus in the U.S., accounting for about 55% of new cases recorded during the week that ended on Saturday, The New York Times reported. The subvariant has caused a surge in cases in Europe. So far in Connecticut, the single-day positivity rate, which had hovered around 2.5% recently, increased to more than 3% last week and has remained above that threshold this week. It was 3.95% on Thursday.
“What we are dealing with right now with BA.2 is an unknown potential spike that might come, and a population of older adults, many of whom got their booster shots back in October,” Juthani said. “It’s been many months since they got their booster. And with a potential unknown rise, this is something we’ve got in the pharmacy cabinet that can help protect our most vulnerable.”
An F.D.A. advisory panel is set to meet on April 6 to weigh a strategy for booster shots in the future. As of Tuesday, 2.7 million, or 75.8% of Connecticut residents were fully vaccinated. Of those, more than 1.4 million, or 51%, had received a booster.
“What I hope over time is that we’re going to be able to get into some sort of cadence of respiratory viral season and being up to date with your COVID vaccine and flu shot and all that going into the fall,” Juthani said.