Local health departments around the U.S. are preparing to roll out COVID-19 vaccine boosters next week, but they are still unsure whether or not they will be able to distribute the shots.
The White House announced last month that booster shots would become available for Americans starting on September 20 due to data suggesting waning efficacy of the initial shots.
The announcement was pending approval from regulators, though, and it appears the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) advisory committee may not be able to determine the safety and effectiveness of the third shots by the targeted rollout date.
This has left local health officials in limbo, wanting to be prepared in case the shots do receive approval, but unsure if they will be going into arms starting Monday.
COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are set to roll out as early as Monday, but they are still pending regulatory approval. This has left many local health departments preparing for vaccine distribution they are not sure will occur. Pictured: A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Carson, California in September
‘We don’t want to be unprepared,’ Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.
The plan laid out by federal officials in August was to offer third vaccine shots to anyone who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs – the two most commonly used in the U.S.
Americans would be eligible for the third shot eight months after having received their second.
Those plans have since gone awry, with regulators notifying White House officials they might not be able to approve the vaccine booster by September 20.
Many have also doubted the need for the third vaccine shots.
Earlier this week, 18 FDA officials wrote a report opposing the roll out of boosters, saying the current science does not support the need for more shots.
Other scientists and health experts have also spoke out against vaccine boosters.
They claim that despite an increase in breakthrough cases, because the vaccine still is effective preventing hospitalizations and deaths more shots are not needed at this time.
Turmoil at the federal level has left local health officials, who have little to no say in the matter, unsure of where to turn to seek guidance or clarity.
Counties need to be prepared to get the shots out once they are approved, but it does not appear that there is a clear target date for approval in September 20 falls through.
‘No one’s going to get boosters until the FDA says they’re approved, until the CDC advisory committee makes a recommendation. What we want to do though is be ready as soon as that comes,’ Ron Klain, White House chief of staff, told CNN earlier this month.
‘A hundred percent we will wait for FDA approval, we will wait for CDC approval.’
Once approval does occur, more than five million Americans will suddenly become eligible to receive the next shot of the vaccine.
Health officials are working to make sure they have the capability to handle a potential surge in vaccine demand.
‘We have been hearing from local health departments, without any confirmed information coming their way, they are beginning to assess who on the ground will have the capacity to do boosters, who will remain as a provider of vaccines and who is pulling out — so that we have a better understanding of how the community will be served and by whom,’ Freeman told CNN.
‘There’s just a lot of some confusion about this.’
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet Friday, two days before September 20, to discuss approval of boosters of the Pfizer shot.
Meanwhile the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will be meeting on September 22 and September 23, two days after the target date.
Currently, 63.5 percent of the population has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 54 percent of people are fully vaccinated, CDC data show.
Anyone over the age of 12 is eligible for the first two shots of the vaccine.
Around 600,000 Americans are currently getting vaccinated every day, down from the high of over 3.5 million in early April.