U.S. health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot -- this time, using half the original dose.
Already millions who got their initial Pfizer shots at least six months ago are getting a booster of that brand. Thursday, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration evaluated the evidence that Moderna boosters should be offered, too -- and on Friday, they’ll tackle the same question for those who got Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
U.S. officials stress that the priority is to get shots to the 66 million unvaccinated Americans who are eligible for immunization -- those most at risk as the extra-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has burned across the country.
“It’s important to remember that the vaccines still provide strong protection against serious outcomes” such as hospitalization and death from COVID-19, said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks.
But Marks said it’s also become clear there is some waning of protection against milder infections with all three of the coronavirus vaccines used in the U.S. And he encouraged the advisory panel to consider if the evidence backs similar booster recommendations for all of them as well, since that would “create the least confusion” for the public.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will ask its outside experts to meet in late November to scrutinize Merck’s pill to treat COVID-19.
The Nov. 30 meeting means U.S. regulators almost certainly won’t issue a decision on the drug until December, signaling that the agency will conduct a detailed review of the experimental treatment’s safety and effectiveness. The panelists are likely to vote on whether Merck’s drug should be approved, though the FDA is not required to follow their advice.
It marks the first time the FDA has convened its expert advisers before ruling on a coronavirus treatment. Advisory committee meetings have become a standard part of its process for reviewing vaccines.
The agency decided to convene the meeting to help inform its decision-making, its top drug regulator said in a statement.
The largest school district in the state is considering asking the state Department of Health to require all Washington students to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
The Seattle School Board on Wednesday postponed a vote on a resolution to the DOH to take more time to engage with and educate the community about a vaccine mandate. The resolution, presented by Board President Chandra Hampson, urges the state Board of Health to add the COVID-19 vaccine, once it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children ages 5 and older, to the list of immunizations students are required to have to attend in-person school.
Most board members were supportive of the vaccine mandate but wanted more time to speak with families, educators, elected officials and other school board members in King County. Board members Brandon Hersey and Lisa Rivera-Smith were interested in doing an equity analysis.
Coronavirus cases in Washington are down across all age groups, including school-age children, the state Department of Health said Wednesday.
The encouraging trend comes several weeks after the state passed a peak of infection driven by the delta variant, which health and hospital officials have said brought the highest numbers of infections and hospitalizations yet.
“We’re seeing some signs of improvement, but disease remains high across the state,” Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH’s deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, said during a news conference. “We’re encouraged that we’re going the right direction, but we have a long way to go to get through this delta wave and prepare for the winter respiratory virus season.”
As of Oct. 3, the state’s seven-day case rate was 234 infections per 100,000 people, Fehrenbach said. According to DOH’s coronavirus data dashboard, the current rate is similar to that of early January and down from a peak in early September of over 300 infections per 100,000 people.
A number of Whatcom County businesses have been waiting nearly 19 months for Tuesday’s announcement from the White House that the U.S. will reopen its land border crossings to vaccinated Canadians for non-essential purposes in November. Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu called the announcement “welcome news for our businesses, which have been missing their Canadian customers.” But how big of an impact should Whatcom County expect? Is it time for one last stock up at Costco and Trader Joe’s in Bellingham before the stores become more crowded as they were before the border closed?
Judging by numbers published by the Canada Border Services Agency, Whatcom County businesses that once saw a hearty dose of Canadian shoppers shouldn’t expect things to return to normal all at once.
Whatcom County reached a milestone nobody wanted to see, as two more COVID-related deaths were reported Wednesday, Oct. 13, bringing the county’s pandemic total to 150, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard. The county’s 150th death was reported 121 days after its 100th was reported June 14. After the first death was reported March 19, 2020, it took the county 221 days to reach 50 reported deaths on Oct. 26, 2020, and another 231 days to reach 100.
Wednesday’s reported deaths were for people who first tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 29 and Sept. 24, according to the state’s epidemiological data — upping the county’s death total in August to 20 and 17 in September, The Bellingham Herald’s analysis shows. August now ties January for Whatcom’s highest number of deaths in a month since the county saw 26 during the first month of the pandemic in March 2020.
Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, said last month there will always be a sense of uncertainty for the communities and businesses along the border.
“Now that it’s been done,” Trautman said, “it can happen again.”
For the first time since the pandemic struck, many colleges and universities are starting the fall term at full capacity, with dorms full of students, classes held in-person, and school events back on the calendar. While each college or university’s strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is different, they share a common thread: Vaccination is the best tool many campuses have for keeping COVID-19 at bay.
Hundreds of universities and colleges are requiring students to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment, but convincing hesitant students to get the shot remains a challenge. A recent series of conversations among college and university leaders — organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — brought to light new and creative methods that campus leaders are using to encourage vaccination in this specific group of young adults.
Many universities have mandated vaccination for students who plan to be on-campus this term. For students who elect not to vaccinate and instead use a waiver for the mandate, Western Washington University has created a required 30-minute COVID-19 education course to help them understand the science behind managing the virus’s spread, and “to try to dispel some of the myths around that,” said David Hansen, associate medical director for the student health center.
Hansen said Western is also requiring weekly testing for waiver students — to achieve the dual goals of campus health and safety and motivating students to get the vaccine. “Our hope is that if students get tired of coming in to get tested all the time, we will have our nurses standing by with some vaccines.”
Food and Drug Administration scientists found potential benefit to a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in a data review that was released Wednesday and that depended heavily on the company’s analysis, suggesting a booster of that shot was perhaps more warranted than additional doses of other coronavirus inoculations.
From the dawn of the vaccine campaign, many experts said they believed the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen would ultimately require a second shot, and the documents pave the way for a panel of experts who advise the FDA to discuss Friday the timing, necessity and safety of a booster dose.
“Although not independently confirmed by FDA from datasets, summaries of the data suggest there may be a benefit in a second dose administered approximately 2 months after the primary dose,” FDA staff wrote. Typically, the agency does its own independent review of data, but much of the data was not submitted in time, meaning large parts of the review depend on the company’s analysis.
Johnson & Johnson is seeking authorization of a booster dose at 6 months or later after the initial shot, or as early as 2 months, for people 18 and older.
The temperature in Seattle dropped to 38 degrees at 4 a.m. Tuesday and dipped down further, to 36 degrees by 6 a.m., breaking the previous daily record low of 39 degrees in 1946, according to the National Weather Service of Seattle.
And it looks like this coming winter could be colder — and probably wetter — than usual.
The government’s top forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center believe that based on the sea-surface temperature trends in the Pacific Ocean, the Seattle area could be in for La Niña winter again this year.