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Arizona health officials address COVID-19 vaccine boosters

Boosters approved for Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson

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As COVID-19 booster shots expand and the U.S. awaits approval of vaccine use for children under the age of 12, Arizona public health experts aimed to dispel any and all prevalent COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot myths at a virtual town hall.

Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General and newly-appointed special adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services on emergency preparedness, along with ADHS Assistant Director for Preparedness Jessica Rigler met last week with AARP Arizona and answered frequently asked questions from seniors across the state about vaccine boosters.

Pfizer boosters began being widely distributed last month, and the federal government recently approved extra doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Carmona said receiving an extra dose of any vaccine is beneficial to keeping COVID at bay, even if you’re fully vaccinated or have natural antibodies.

“The answer is yes, that it gives you additional immunity. And so, we understand that you have some immunity from being exposed,” he said Thursday. “But the immunity with the vaccine is additive and better, and it protects you even more.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said mixing booster doses is an option; if you received two doses of Pfizer, you won’t be harmed by getting a Moderna booster dose, for example.

Rigler agreed, encouraging the audience to take any vaccine available to them first.

“Our understanding is based on what the FDA has said already this week, that any one of those vaccines is going to be a good vaccine to boost with,” she said. “Moderna and Pfizer are much more widely available in pharmacies throughout the state so it’s likely when you go to get your booster dose that it will be one of those two dose types that you would get a booster dose with.”

Pfizer boosters began last month, and the government has recently cleared extra doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for distribution. If you got Pfizer or Moderna shots first, you’re eligible if your last dose was at least six months ago and you’re 65 or older, or are a younger adult with underlying health issues, or a job or living conditions that put you at higher risk for contracting the virus.

Anyone who got a J& J shot at least two months ago is eligible, regardless of age or other factors, as the onedose shot is less effective than the other two.

CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens have rolled out booster shots across the Valley and state. Boosters also are available at community health clinics and private doctor’s offices.

Both Rigler and Carmona said new data is arriving all the time, so it’s unclear how often the fully vaccinated might have to get extra doses.

“It is estimated that we will probably have to have a COVID vaccine every year, every six months because the data comes out we don’t know exactly for sure but the COVID is going to be with us for some time, even though we extinguish it and it won’t be able to transmit to anybody because people are vaccinated, it will still be there,” said Carmona. “But much like children get their boosters as well when you get measles and mumps and rubella, that it bumps up the immunity again because we know the virus is still out there.”

According to an Arizona AARP poll, taken during the virtual town hall, 24% of respondents had received a booster dose, 55% planned to get it, 16% wanted to learn more before getting it and just 5% said they do not want it.

Carmona said tackling the hesitancy and misinformation, as well as the divisiveness surrounding vaccine mandates, has been a daily challenge, but, as Rigler later added, an additional vaccine dose will go a long way toward helping the entire community.

“They are pretty much equally effective in preventing you from dying preventing you from being on a ventilator and preventing you from serious complications, you know, and the challenge of course is that the public was thinking that this prevents me from getting the disease,” Carmona said. “It does most of the time. But most importantly if you happen to get it, if it gives you a mild disease, most of the time, and that’s what’s really important.”

Arizona’s vaccination rate continues to increase as efforts to inoculate people expand: 58.7% of the state is vaccinated. ADHS reported 17,034 new doses today.

As the number of booster shots continues to grow, with some getting their third dose, children under the age of 12 are still waiting for their first shots.

Moderna said Monday a low dose of its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and appears to work in 6- to 11-year-olds, though the FDA has not yet approved the brand for use in anyone under the age of 18. But the U.S. is expected to begin vaccinating children under 12 soon if the FDA clears low doses of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-yearolds. The FDA is set to examine Pfizer’s data and evidence during a public meeting today.

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