Virginia health leaders weigh in on timeline for booster shot rollout

Virus Outbreak Booster Shots
Posted at 9:46 AM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 09:46:19-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As some scientists argued COVID-19 booster shots were not needed for the general public at this time, Virginia Health leaders said they were awaiting guidance from the FDA and CDC.

As a vaccination event wrapped up in Richmond's Southside on Tuesday evening, Second Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Ralph Hodge, said he was thankful to see more people coming in, including young people.

"I did a funeral today of a young person that past away from COVID," said Hodge. "I don’t want see anyone perish because of something we probably could prevent with a vaccine."

His primary goal and the goal of health leaders across the state is to get people their first rounds of the vaccine.

But what about those who’ve already had the shot?

In mid-August, federal health leaders announced the need for booster shots for the general population and said that pending approval from several agencies like the FDA, the shots could roll out by next week.

Now, some scientists argue there isn't a need for booster shots yet in the general public.

"Are the politics around this driving decision-making as opposed to the science? And I think that’s something we should always be wary of," said Virginia's Vaccination Coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula.

Dr. Avula said scientists continued to collectively learn about the disease, and disagreements over interpretation of data was expected. However, he said the science should lead the decisions.

"They need to let the data around whether we need a booster or not, or whether it’s certain populations that need a booster and others that don't. We need to let the FDA do their work to make those recommendations," said Dr. Avula.

On Friday, The FDA’s Advisory Committee is set to evaluate the data from Pfizer regarding a booster dose for those who are 16 and up. They are expected to make make recommendations to FDA who would decide whether to approve it.

"What I don’t know is what that recommendation will be," Avula said.

After the FDA recommendation would come a decision by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and adoption from the CDC.

Dr. Avula said it is likely all those steps won’t happen by next week, but mentioned it was possible.

"I think we will have some segment of our population eligible for boosters and hopefully it won’t be too many that hit the system at one time so that our existing vaccine delivery systems can really meet that demand," Dr. Avula said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said when the decision was made, they were ready to offer the shots.

"If boosters are recommended then we anticipate we’ll be able to see Richmonders getting vaccines through pharmacies, through their doctors' offices, through our health district events," said Dr. Viray.

But Dr. Viray said those looking to get a booster shot through the Richmond and Henrico Health District Clinics would be required to make an appointment when they were available, while unvaccinated people were still welcome to walk in for their first doses.

"Right now, there’s no action for anyone to take at this time for boosters. It’s a bit of a watch and wait. We know folks are anxious, but I want to reassure you all that if you’ve had your first series, your first and second doses, or your first dose of J&J, there is still very good protection," Dr. Viray said.