Los Angeles County health officials wasted no time after federal approval was granted, giving the green light for a second booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible residents starting Wednesday, March 30.
U.S. regulators on Tuesday approved a new COVID-19 booster for people 50 and older, a move to provide additional protection for the most vulnerable in the event the coronavirus returns.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision opens a fourth dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to that age group, at least four months after their previous booster.
Until now, the FDA had only approved the fourth doses for people 12 years and older who have severely weakened the immune system. The agency said this particularly vulnerable group could also receive an additional booster, a fifth injection.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s vaccination sites will begin offering second doses to eligible residents on Wednesday at these sites:
— Obregon Park in East Los Angeles;
— Ted Watkins Park in South Los Angeles;
— Balboa sports complex in Encino;
— Trade Senior Center in Trade;
— Market Street center in Santa Clarita;
— Palmdale Oasis Recreation Center; and
— Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex.
Information about the sites is available online at VaccinateLACounty.com. Health officials said other non-province-owned sites may also have the secondary booster doses available. Residents should check with their health care provider for options.
Long Beach and Pasadena, cities with their own independent health departments, would soon follow.
The latest expansion, regardless of people’s health, will give millions of Americans an extra chance — once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make their own recommendations. A lingering question is whether everyone who qualifies should hurry and seek the dose right away.
Anyone eligible for a first booster who hasn’t already gotten one should get it, said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks. But the second booster is only for these higher-risk groups because there’s evidence that protection may diminish and the FDA has decided the option “will help save lives and prevent serious consequences.”
Meanwhile, LA County announced seven more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the county a total of 31,626. An additional 541 cases have also been reported, taking the total pandemic across the province to 2,831,655.
The number of COVID-positive patients in provincial hospitals continues its downward trend, falling to 321 as of Tuesday, down from 329 on Monday. The number of patients treated in intensive care was 57, down from 60 a day earlier.
The moving average daily rate of people who tested positive for the virus was 0.7% as of Tuesday, about the same as the past two weeks.
COVID-19 cases have fallen to low levels following the winter wave of the super-contagious Omicron variant. Two doses of vaccine plus a booster still provide strong protection against serious illness and death, CDC data shows.
But an omicron sibling is causing a worrying rise in infections in Europe – and spreading in the US – even as vaccination has stalled. About two-thirds of Americans are fully vaccinated, and half of those eligible for a first booster have not received one.
On Thursday, LA County reported an increase in COVID infections attributed to the BA.2, an offshoot of the omicron variant that sparked a winter spate of cases and hospitalizations.
According to the county, the BA.2 subvariant accounted for 14.7% of all specially sequenced cases as of the week ending March 5 — more than double the rate from the previous week’s 6.4%. Experts have suggested that BA.2 is at least 30% more contagious than the omicron variant, which was already spread significantly more easily than the original COVID-19 virus.
According to the county, as of Sunday, 83% of eligible county residents ages 5 and older had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine and 75% were fully vaccinated. However, only 30% of children aged 5-11 are fully vaccinated, the lowest percentage of all age groups.
Only 55.4% of black residents are fully vaccinated, along with 58.9% of Latina residents, compared to 73% of white residents and 82% of Asians.
FDA’s Marks said regulators have set the age at 50 because chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes become more common, increasing the risks of COVID-19. As for the immunocompromised, Marks said those patients are more likely to see their immune protection decline more quickly and therefore benefit more from additional protection. Only the Pfizer vaccine can be used in children over 12 years of age; Moderna’s is for adults.
There is limited evidence to tell how much benefit another booster can provide at this point. The FDA made the decision without input from an independent panel of experts grappling with how much data is needed to expand recordings.
“There may be a reason to refill the tanks a bit” for older people and those with other health conditions, said University of Pennsylvania immunologist E. John Wherry, who was not involved in the government’s decision.
But while encouraging older friends and relatives to follow the advice, 50-year-old Wherry — who is healthy, vaccinated and boosted — isn’t about to get a fourth shot right away. With protections against serious disease still strong, “I’m going to wait until it looks like there’s a need for it.”
None of the COVID-19 vaccines are as strong against the ommicron mutant as against previous versions of the virus. Also, protection against milder infections naturally diminishes over time. But the immune system builds up multiple layers of defense, and the type that prevents serious illness and death persists.
During the U.S. omicron wave, two doses were nearly 80% effective against ventilation or death — and one booster pushed that protection to 94%, the CDC recently reported. Vaccine efficacy was lowest – 74% – in immunocompromised people, the vast majority of whom had not received a third dose.
Staff writers Pierce Singgih and Brennon Dixson contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press and City News Service.