New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

What does COVID booster rejection mean for state?

- By Liz Hardaway, Jordan Fenster and Amanda Cuda

A federal advisory committee’s rejection of a plan to make COVID booster shots widely available could further hamper efforts to convince unvaccinat­ed people to get their first doses, some health experts said.

President Joe Biden’s administra­tion was trying to get booster shots available to the general public by Monday, but the Food and Drug Administra­tion’s vaccine advisory committee voted against the plan, citing Pfizer-BioNTech for not providing sufficient data on the safety and effectiven­ess of extra coronaviru­s vaccine doses, according to the Associated Press.

The committee, however, recommende­d the booster shots for people 65 and older and those with high risk of severe COVID complicati­ons. These individual­s can get booster shots six months after being fully vaccinated.

The state Department of Public Health said Friday’s FDA meeting is just the start of the process and it will be ready to provide third doses of vaccines when the recommenda­tions are finalized.

“It’s hard to disagree with the FDA panel,” said Dr. Gregory Buller, associate chief medical officer and chairman of the department of medicine at Bridgeport Hospital. ‘They make very good points about the fact that the data is incomplete and is, as (a) result, controvers­ial.”

Rick Martinello, director of infectious disease for Yale New Haven Health, said just because the panel rejected the plan Friday “that does in no way mean that they can’t bring up the same question once more data is available.”

Martinello said the studies examining booster shots were “relatively modest in scale,” but showed third doses are safe and effective.

“The safety profile seems very similar, essentiall­y the same” to the first and second doses, he added.

However, the rejection could have some unintended consequenc­es, making it more difficult to convince unvaccinat­ed people to get the shot, Martinello said.

“There’s political cost that both the Biden administra­tion and public health in general are going to experience because of this,” Martinello said.

Dr. Frank Illuzzi, Hartford HealthCare Medical Group’s medical director for Fairfield County, said the focus should remain on getting people their initial doses of the vaccine.

“There are a lot of people who are still not vaccinated yet. We need to redouble efforts (to) get initial shots in people’s arms,” he said.

As of Wednesday, about 69 percent of Connecticu­t residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, state data shows. Some 63 percent are fully vaccinated.

Asha Shah, director of infectious disease at Stamford Health, said the focus should be placed more on what public health officials can do to fight the pandemic.

“The biggest public health impact we can have now is to get the unvaccinat­ed vaccinated,” Shah said. “Then the booster decision will come, but it’s one I think they can take time to make.”

The booster rejection came as the Connecticu­t daily positivity rate was reported at 4.2 percent on Friday. The state also reported seven more hospitaliz­ations, increasing the total to 332 — 240 of them are not fully vaccinated.

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