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One-on-one with White House vaccinations coordinator on COVID booster shots

LSU Health expert also urges eligible vaccinated people to get the extra shot
Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 6:31 PM CDT
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White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair discusses authorizations for booster...
White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair discusses authorizations for booster shots for all three COVID-19 vaccines.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Booster shots are now available for all three authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., and some Louisianans joined people around the country in getting the additional dose of vaccine.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, White House Vaccinations Coordinator and he spoke to FOX 8 News about how boosters aid the fight against the dangerous coronavirus. Both the FDA and CDC authorized the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots as boosters. Pfizer’s booster shot was authorized ahead of the other two.

“The CDC yesterday took one more step in making sure we continue to do everything we can to optimize the protection that we’re getting from these wonderful vaccines that we have and now all three vaccines that are utilized here in the United States, J&J, Moderna and Pfizer have recommendations for booster shots,” said Choucair.

He said data shows booster shots are beneficial.

“Now, what we know from the studies that we’ve seen, getting a booster shot in those specific populations that are eligible now for the booster shot will optimize the protection that we’re getting from these vaccines,” said Choucair.

But whether you are eligible sooner or later for the additional vaccine dose depends on the vaccine you initially received.

“If you have received your J&J vaccine and you’re two months or more after that J&J dose you’re definitely eligible for a booster shot,” said Choucair.

And he discussed booster shot eligibility for the other two vaccines.

“Now if you have taken Moderna or Pfizer and your second dose shot was six months or more you’re eligible for a booster shot if you’re one of three categories: you’re 65 and older, you’re 18 to 64 but you have an underlying medical condition like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or if you’re 18 to 64 but you’re a frontline essential worker like healthcare worker, teachers, bus drivers, grocery store clerk, or you live in a homeless shelter,” said Choucair.

And the CDC and FDA also gave the greenlight for fully vaccinated people to mix and match booster shots.

“We have data that shows that the mix and match is good, we have data that shows that the staying with your same dose, with your same vaccine is also good and that’s where the recommendations landed,” said Choucair.

Dr. Benjamin Springgate is LSU Health New Orleans’ Chief of Community Population Medicine.

“For those who are eligible for boosters, if they take advantage of this opportunity it will produce longer lasting immunity, it will decrease the likelihood that they will become infected, but importantly it will also decrease the likelihood that the virus will continue to spread in our community. That’s really critical, we want to get past this pandemic,” said Springgate.

He said more guidance from federal health officials is expected on boosters in a matter of days.

“And the CDC is going to be coming out with further guidance next week to describe additional information about which particular mixing and matching for boosters might be more appropriate. So, certainly, it’s worthwhile to ask one’s doctor but look for that CDC guidance next week as well,” Springgate stated.

Choucair was asked about combatting arguments by some who refuse to be vaccinated and point to the need for boosters as a reason for questioning the effectiveness of the shots.

“Well, here’s what I would say, what we know from the data is very, very clear; if you’re unvaccinated you’re five times more likely to get this virus, 10 times more likely to end up in the hospital, 11 times more likely to die from this virus compared to someone who vaccinated, so there is no doubt that vaccination gives you tremendous protection,” said Choucair.

He urged everyone who has not been vaccinated to do so.

“We’re coming up to the holiday season, we want to do everything we can to be able to celebrate the holidays safely. And here’s what I would tell you, there’s 64 million people in this country today who are eligible to get vaccinated and they’re still unvaccinated,” said Choucair.

Springgate agrees.

“For every person, we get vaccinated it decreases the likelihood that we’re going to have further variants develop. And these variants as we know, some of them can sometimes prove to be more deadly, more transmissible. "

It is anticipated that approval could come before Thanksgiving to vaccinate kids ages 5 to 11 with a lower dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. On Tuesday, the FDA’s advisory committee meets on the vaccine for that age group and a similar panel for the CDC will gather to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine for younger kids on November 2 and 3.

“We know there are about 28 million kids in this country ages 5 to 11, right now these kids are not eligible to get vaccinated. We’ve seen over the last many weeks that we’ve seen a rise in percentage of infections that are happening in kids in this country, so we are obviously very excited to see where the CDC and the FDA process will land on approving or not approving a vaccine for kids 5 to 11,” said Choucair.

Springgate said having millions of younger children vaccinated will have a significant impact.

“It’s certainly going to be a gamechanger for so many families across the country whose children are ages 5 to 11 as well as for school communities or anywhere where kids congregate,” said Springgate.

On Friday afternoon, the Louisiana Department of Health held a briefing and said that there is plenty of vaccine in the state for initial shots and boosters. The public is urged to be patient when making appointments for the shots.

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