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Avula: Early findings about J&J booster are 'encouraging', more data must be seen

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Posted at 4:40 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 18:12:03-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said the early findings of a Johnson & Johnson booster shot are encouraging but adds there is more data to be reviewed and more procedural steps that have to be taken before the boosters are approved.

On Wednesday morning, the company announced that people who were given a booster shot between six to eight months after their first dose saw a nine-fold increase in the number of anti-bodies compared to 28 days after that initial shot.

The company says that it is engaging with federal officials about booster shots administered eight months or later. The information released Wednesday is from an early study and hasn't been peer-reviewed.

"So it'll still be some time before that data gets formally submitted to the FDA and reviewed," Avula said.

The discussion on boosters has been increasing as studies have found decreasing effectiveness over time and in the face of the delta variant. Federal officials are hoping to start boosters for the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in late September but have said they didn't have enough data to make recommendations for Johnson & Johnson.

State Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Avula said the lack of enough data is in part because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved a few months after Moderna and Pfizer.

"I think looking forward, not only are we looking at the data that was released by Johnson and Johnson today that shows an increased number of circulating antibodies, but we also want to see the real-world efficacy of this against new infection, against hospitalization and death, and against the Delta variant," Avula said.

Avula said that over 322,000 Virginians have gotten the Johnson & Johnson shot so far. Those who would be eligible for a booster would be able to get the shot some time in November. He has stressed that people's immunity will not significantly diminish at that time.

"Really, there is a gradual reduction in circulating antibodies," Avula said.

However, HCA Hospitals Pathologist Dr. John Turner said that more data still needs to be looked at before a decision can be made, including if a booster is safe and its real-world effectiveness against the coronavirus.

"Vaccines really don't keep someone necessarily from contracting COVID. But they keep folks from getting sick and being admitted to hospitals and sick enough to be admitted to hospitals. And so that's really the data I think will really matter over time," Turner said.