RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia won’t be joining a growing list of states opening coronavirus boosters to all adults ahead of federal recommendations. But now, it looks like that stamp of approval from the FDA could be coming as early as Thursday.
After the FDA makes its call, a CDC advisory group is expected to conduct its own review in a meeting set for Friday. If both agencies agree, that could expand access to Pfizer boosters nationwide for everyone 18 and older by this weekend, according to some reports.
In Virginia, it means half a million more adults could soon be newly eligible for boosters just as many are preparing to hit the road for Thanksgiving.
The added protection before family gatherings was a major factor for Curtis Coleman, 57, who just got his booster on Wednesday in Richmond.
“I’m going to be around my family. My kids are coming over and I don’t want them to pass it on or pass it over to my grandkids,” Coleman said.
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in an interview that they’re waiting for the green light from the federal government, unlike at least four other states that have recently announced expanded access.
“We want to ensure safety and, while everything points in the direction of this getting approved, we’ll want the backing of the CDC before we take that step,” Avula said.
Pfizer and Moderna boosters are already available to people 65 and older, as well as those with high-risk jobs, living situations or health conditions. Avula said Virginians aren’t required to present proof of those circumstances.
Unlike previous phases of the vaccine roll out, the limited criteria are not an issue of low supply. There are plenty of places to get the booster between doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and vaccination clinics, though you may need to make an appointment.
Rather, the wait for broader authorization is the product of an intense debate among federal health officials on whether to expand Pfizer eligibility to everyone 18 and older.
Critics have argued the need for boosters is less clear for young, healthy people. Some have pointed to concerns over a rare heart inflammation side effect that appears to be more prevalent in younger men who received the coronavirus vaccine.
However, Avula said a growing body of evidence backs the benefits on an extra shot six months after a person’s most recent dose.
“When you get to that six-month mark and beyond, your protection from the initial round of vaccination, at least for reinfection, really starts to drop off. The protection against severe hospitalization and death still seems pretty solid,” Avula said.
Boosters for Johnson & Johnson recipients who are 18 and older are already federally recommended just two months after a first dose. Some data suggests getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster may provide even more protection for this population than a second jab of Johnson & Johnson.
Avula expects opening eligibility to all adults will have an impact on demand. So far, nearly one million Virginians have gotten their booster.
“We’ve seen this throughout the vaccine rollout that when there are rules or inclusion criteria that sometimes can be discouraging for people and they just wait until it’s universally available,” Avula said.