The FDA will review Moderna and J & J’s booster data. A preview of what to expect from the FDA this week and how vaccines are still holding up despite declining immunity.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Which Americans Can or Should Get Which Booster Shots? FDA advisors are due to meet this week to discuss booster vaccines for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. And with new cases across the country, Americans are trying to figure out what’s safe and what’s not for the upcoming holidays. We have a lot of practical information for you this morning. You’ll want to hear it, and MediaFrolic health correspondent Allison Aubrey is our guide. Good morning, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: It seems like things are moving in the right direction right now, if that’s okay. What do the numbers tell us?
AUBREY: Yes. New cases have dropped to around 93,000 a day. That’s a decrease of about 40% since the beginning of September. And the number of deaths averages around 1,400 a day, but it’s also declining. Given the current trends, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that many people should be able to enjoy the upcoming holidays, starting with Halloween and trick or treating for kids.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: You’re mostly outside. I mean, this is a time kids love – so I mean, especially if you’re vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, remember to provide extra protection for yourself and your children and family. But get out there and enjoy Halloween as well as the other holidays that are to come.
AUBREY: He added that people shouldn’t prematurely declare victory over COVID. He says with more than 60 million people eligible but not yet vaccinated, cases could recover. So it is important to be careful.
MARTIN: Yes, but a small celebration. I mean my kids kept asking, are we going to have Halloween? So I’m happy to say yes to you.
MARTIN: So of course there is still this big push to get people vaccinated with their first vaccinations. At the same time, more people could be eligible for boosters. What’s going on this week
AUBREY: Well, remember; The only people eligible for a booster now are those who received the Pfizer vaccine. But…
AUBREY: … An FDA advisory panel is due to meet Thursday and Friday to discuss booster vaccines for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. From now on, a booster vaccination is recommended for people aged 65 and over and people at higher risk due to an underlying disease or exposure to the virus. There is currently no recommendation for a booster for healthy younger people. But former CDC director Tom Frieden told me that this may eventually change. Remember, it has only been 10 months since the first COVID vaccine was approved.
TOM FRIEDEN: It usually takes a few years to find out what the correct dosage regimen for a vaccine is – how many doses, how high the dose is, at what interval. The vaccines may turn out to require three doses for each, but we don’t know that yet.
AUBREY: So far, it seems that the decline in immunity and the risk of getting a breakthrough infection that leads to hospitalization is much higher in people 65 and over. Meanwhile, drug maker Merck said this morning that it had asked the FDA to approve its emergency COVID antiviral pill. Clinical study data showed that the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization in newly diagnosed COVID patients by about 50%.
MARTIN: Allison, can you say more about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a possible booster? I mean, that was the vaccine that was always exceptional because it was just one shot, wasn’t it?
AUBREY: That’s right. I mean, it was known from the start that the J&J shot was a little less effective compared to the Moderna and Pfizer shots. And the overall effectiveness of vaccines has decreased in recent months. Well, some doctors say they saw this in all age groups with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, not just the elderly. So it’s possible, Rachel, that counselors could recommend another dose to a wider group this week. The company’s data shows that a second dose of its vaccine increases protection. Here is Dr. Peace.
PEACE: The data recently released by Johnson & Johnson was very encouraging for a second dose. That turned what was already a good vaccine into a really excellent protective vaccine. So I’m assuming a second dose of the J&J vaccine will be approved.
AUBREY: And that could happen pretty quickly after the advisors have met. The CDC is expected to issue a recommendation next week.
MARTIN: All right. Another thing that a lot of people are waiting for – a vaccine for children under the age of 5 …
MARTIN: … until 11, until 12. When can a decision be expected?
AUBREY: You know, FDA advisors are meeting on October 26th. I spoke to Josh Sharfstein at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a trained pediatrician. He says it may seem like it will take a very long time to make a decision. But there are good reasons for that, he says. You need to weigh the benefits of protecting children from the virus against the risks. And that is exactly why the clinical studies were designed.
JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: We’ll see the FDA’s assessment of the data provided by the company, as well as a discussion with independent experts about what that means. So it’s really important to take that break and have a really thorough discussion about what makes the most sense for kids.
AUBREY: Of course, if the safety and efficacy look good and it’s approved, there is broad consensus that it will be beneficial in terms of protecting children.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you Allison about COVID tests at home. We were visiting friends in North Carolina over the long weekend. And we all decided beforehand to do these COVID tests at home. I easily found some at my local pharmacy, but our friends had to drive around to several places because everyone …
MARTIN: … those tests ran out. Are there any plans …
MARTIN: … increase supplies?
AUBREY: Yes. The FDA approved another new rapid home test last week. And the Biden administration announced an additional $ 1 billion to buy millions of tests in response to that persistent shortage you saw. Well, these are over-the-counter swab tests, like the Abbott BinaxNOW test. You can buy them as usual at the pharmacy or online. They test for antigens or proteins on the surface of the virus and can give fairly reliable results in 15 minutes, especially on people who are symptomatic. Here is the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients speaking at a briefing.
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JEFFREY ZIENTS: This means companies can expand the production of tests even further, with tens of millions more tests coming out in the next 30 days.
AUBREY: So there should be more supplies by Thanksgiving, which can calm people down as they travel and gather. Regarding the BinaxNOW tests, there are two tests in each package and it is recommended that you use both tests. So test twice in three days with 36 hours between tests.
MARTIN: All right. So October is usually the month of the flu vaccination. Many hospitals are preparing for the possibility that they could have both COVID and flu patients this winter. Can you briefly talk about this concern?
AUBREY: Yes. I mean, it’s kind of too early to predict what kind of flu season it will be. But CDC director Walensky urges people to get vaccinated against the flu. She says immunity is likely weakened because the flu infections have been so low over the past year. I mean, people tend to forget that the flu can be deadly. In the United States, between 12,000 and 52,000 people die from the flu every year
I spoke to Elaine O’Hara. She heads the vaccine division of the vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur. She told me there are a lot of flu shots. People just have to go out and get them.
ELAINE O’HARA: We have a certain amount of vaccination fatigue where people say: OK, well, I got my COVID vaccination. I really don’t want to have any more vaccinations. You know, when it gets colder it could really be a significant problem.
AUBREY: And it’s okay to go out and get a flu shot and a COVID shot or a COVID booster on the same visit, the same shot – at the same time.
MARTIN: Allison Aubrey from MediaFrolic, thank you. We appreciate it.
AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel.
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