Demand picking up a bit for new Omicron booster shots
Mass. reports 91,400 vaccine doses administered last week
NOW THAT THE federal government has authorized Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines, some Massachusetts residents are running to get them – but far from the furious rush that accompanied the initial vaccines.
The Department of Public Health’s weekly vaccination data from Wednesday provides the first insight into how much demand there is in the state for the new vaccines, which were approved by the CDC September 1.
The data show that vaccine interest had been steadily low throughout August, with somewhere around 5,000 shots administered on a typical weekday. After Labor Day, however, the numbers jumped, with between 8,000 and 21,000 shots given daily from September 6 through September 11. Rather than the 1,000 to 2,000 doses administered on a typical Saturday or Sunday in August, more than 10,000 shots were reported on Saturday, September 10, and another 8,000 on Sunday. There were a total of 91,423 doses administered and reported in the seven days ending September 12, compared to 12,718 doses administered the prior week.
Most of these numbers represent people lining up for the Omicron booster, officially called a bivalent vaccine, which has now displaced the original vaccine as the only booster shot available. There were about 9,000 people in Massachusetts who became fully vaccinated with their initial vaccine series in the week ending September 12, but the vast majority of the shots delivered were boosters, according to the data. The Boston Globe reported Thursday that some CVS locations ran out of doses of Moderna’s bivalent vaccine, although doses of Pfizer’s were still available.
In Massachusetts, 59 percent of vaccinated individuals have gotten a booster dose, compared to 49 percent of the US vaccinated population. Booster shots have been most accepted among the elderly, who are most at risk from COVID-19 and who were the first age group to be approved for a booster shot. More than 80 percent of those over 70 years old have gotten a booster, and more than 40 percent of people over 70 have gotten two boosters.
But whether Americans – and Bay Staters – are interested in yet another COVID vaccine dose remains to be seen. A July poll by the Associated Press found that most Americans have returned to many of their pre-pandemic activities, with more than three-quarters returning to socializing, traveling, eating out, and attending religious services. That eliminates some of the incentive to get the vaccine, which the first time around promised a return to normalcy after lockdowns.
Acceptance of the COVID vaccines generally has been a strongly partisan issue, with Republicans getting vaccinated at lower rates than Democrats. While there is strong evidence that vaccines have reduced severe illness and death, the effectiveness of the initial vaccines waned over time and proved less effective against the Omicron variant, which could erode trust in the vaccines generally – although the point of the Omicron-specific vaccine is to improve its effectiveness against the current virus strain.The Omicron-specific vaccine also has no clear data on its effectiveness. Both Pfizer and Moderna tested boosters targeted at the BA.1 variant, but then developed a new vaccine targeting the BA.4/BA.5 variant, which was still in clinical trials when the companies asked for CDC approval. As Science reported, the companies received approval based on clinical trial data from the BA.1 vaccine and animal testing of the BA.4/BA.5 vaccine. This is similar to how the annual flu vaccine is reformulated and approved without waiting for human data.