The campaign to insulate California against another winter coronavirus surge got a major shot in the arm this week when federal health officials adopted criteria that will allow millions of additional residents to receive COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
Eligible recipients will be able to book appointments for both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters as soon as Friday.
“If you’re eligible — get your booster,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Friday morning. “Protect yourself and loved ones this winter.”
While both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have signed off on expanding the nationwide booster campaign, California has traditionally waited to officially implement such guidance until it can be reviewed by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a coalition of public health experts from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The group is likely to move quickly, however, as it did last month to endorse offering booster doses of the other available COVID-19 vaccine, from Pfizer-BioNTech.
While boosters are now available for all three vaccine brands, there are key differences in who can get them.
Under the framework finalized Thursday, a third Pfizer or Moderna dose should be given to those 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and people ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
Boosters can also be given to younger adults with underlying medical conditions, as well as adults 18 to 64 who are at increased risk for coronavirus exposure because of their work or living conditions.
For all Pfizer and Moderna recipients, the additional dose should be administered at least six months after the completion of an initial two-dose inoculation series.
Adults who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster two months after their first shot.
The CDC also opened the door to “mix and match” the vaccines — allowing someone to get a booster dose that’s a different brand from what they initially received. In other words, a Johnson & Johnson recipient could opt to get a booster dose of Moderna, or vice versa.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky characterized the booster recommendations as “another example of our fundamental commitment to protect as many people as possible from COVID-19.”
“The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe — as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” she said in a statement. “And they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant.”
The widespread booster rollout will move the statewide and nationwide inoculation campaigns into a new, critical phase.
While most Americans, and nearly 62% of Californians, have already been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, officials have expressed concern that waning immunity from the shots could leave some residents exposed — an alarming prospect with the busy holiday season just around the corner.
“We need to do everything possible to prevent a devastating winter surge,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. “We’ve seen a pattern where COVID numbers increase with cooler weather and more activities moving indoors.”
Though getting more unvaccinated people to roll up their sleeves remains the top priority, officials say boosters also can play a pivotal role in warding off another wave by ensuring more people — especially those at higher risk for the worst outcomes of COVID-19 — are as protected as possible.
“Booster shots provide enhanced protection, and are a significant step forward in our fight against the virus,” Jeff Zients, a White House COVID-19 coordinator, said during a briefing Friday.
Though millions of Californians will soon be able to get a booster shot, officials expressed confidence that there will be ample supply and that existing vaccination networks will be able to accommodate the increased demand.
“There are no lines right now,” Ferrer said. “It’s pretty easy to get in and get out very quickly.”