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Virginia health experts weigh in on future of booster shots

Hollie Maloney
Posted at 11:40 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-17 12:05:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The wait could soon be over for those waiting on a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson booster shot in Virginia. In the meantime, health officials weighed in on the safety and efficacy of mixing and matching COVID vaccine brands for booster shots.

On Friday, the FDA Advisory Committee voted to approve a booster of Johnson & Johnson two months after your first dose for those 18 and up. The day prior, a half booster dose of Moderna was approved six months after your second dose for certain groups.

In a statement, Virginia's Vaccination Coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula called the recommendation a major step "toward the goal of making booster vaccinations available to Virginians who have completed either a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine series".

But the VDH also noted that the recommendation made Friday was just that -- a recommendation.

The VDH said that booster doses for these vaccines would not be available in the state until the FDA issues an updated authorization and the CDC issues new guidance.

A meeting was set for October 20 and 21 with the CDC's Advisory Committee. A recommendation from the CDC was not expected until after that.

Dr. Avula said the Virginia Department of Health was continuing its planning efforts so that once a recommendation is made, boosters will be available to those eligible.

In the meantime, FDA advisors are reviewing the possibility of mixing and matching different brands of the COVID vaccine for a booster shot after a new study found it could be effective.

Dr. Michael Stevens, the Interim Hospital Epidemiologist at the VCU Medical Center, said the data on mixing and matching was limited.

"We have robust data from millions and millions of people at this point, practical data, from people who have received the vaccines. But on the mixing and matching, we have very limited data," said Dr. Stevens. "The most robust data are from the clinical trials that enrolled 10s of 1000s of people. And that's where I'm, that's where I would put my money."

Dr. Stevens said he was recommending people stick with one brand for now, at least until advised otherwise by the FDA and CDC.

"We really need the FDA to review those data and to weigh in on it. It's just too limited now to say that's the strategy to go with," said Stevens.

He added that going against the recommendation could complicate things for people in the long run.

"Right now, we don't know, you know, is this single booster enough to sort of carry us forever? Or are we going to need another booster, you know, in, in a year? I mean, we don't really know the answers to those questions yet," said Dr. Stevens. "And so, if you deviate from what is ultimately going to be the recommendation, you're also going to have a harder time knowing what you should do, you know, down the road as well."