COVID-19 boosters are on the way. What we know now

Vaccine mega-sites poised to open as state preps for booster plans
Credit: (Rich Hundley III, The Trentonian)
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at a briefing on the pandemic in May. She said Monday that as many as 1.1 million New Jerseyans could soon be eligible to receive a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine by next week. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must still approve the plan.

New Jersey’s plans to reopen at least one COVID-19 vaccine mega-site are temporarily on hold as state leaders await federal guidance that could enable potentially one million or more state residents to receive a booster shot.

State Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday that as many as 1.1 million New Jerseyans could soon be eligible to receive a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine by next week, based on the recent recommendations of a federal panel. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must still approve the plan, a process that involves meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Proposals to administer booster shots for Moderna or Johnson & Johnson are still under review.

“The Department will direct vaccination partners in the state to begin administering booster doses once [CDC officials] provide further guidance. We will provide updates to the public once eligibility guidance is available,” Persichilli said Monday at one of the Murphy administration’s twice-weekly pandemic media briefings. “We do have supply and we are prepared to give it.”

Persichilli also urged those who have not completed the first round of shots to complete their initial dosage or begin the process if they haven’t yet started. More than 1,600 vaccination sites here are offering first shots, Gov. Phil Murphy noted.

The state had initially planned to reopen at least one vaccine mega-site by this week to begin administering boosters to potentially millions of New Jerseyans starting Monday, based on the goals and timeline outlined by President Joe Biden in August. Biden called on federal health officials to approve a booster shot for all adults who received the Pfizer vaccine, with health care workers, elderly residents and others at risk first in line. Of the nearly 5.8 million people fully vaccinated in New Jersey, some 3 million have received the Pfizer shots.

Instead, the FDA recommendation Friday limits boosters to a far smaller group. Here’s what happens next and what it could mean for New Jersey.

Who would qualify for boosters, based on Friday’s FDA recommendation?

An estimated 430,000 individuals older than age 65 who were vaccinated with Pfizer would be able to get a third shot.

An estimated 670,000 more would be eligible as a result of their COVID-19 risk, either because of a pre-existing condition or because they work in a health care setting.

Where and when would they get shots?

Boosters are available for this group starting six months after they receive the last of the first two shots.

State officials said boosters will be available at a mix of existing sites, including “strong, active county sites” and reopened mega-sites.

Persichilli said the Gloucester County mega-site is likely to be the first to reopen, once the federal guidance is available.

The state will also be working to coordinate booster doses for homebound individuals who received the Pfizer shots, she said.

When will we know if these groups get the green light?

A CDC vaccine advisory panel is slated to meet to review the FDA recommendation on Wednesday and Thursday and, if they approve, outline guidelines to put the plan in action; the CDC itself will then need to sign off on the panel’s guidance.

Persichilli suggested the state could have this guidance by later this week.

Wait, aren’t boosters already available for some people?

Yes. Federal officials approved the use of booster doses – for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — for individuals with seriously compromised immune systems.

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