Demand picking up a bit for new Omicron booster shots

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.

Compared to the rest of the country, Massachusetts has enormously high rates of vaccine acceptance. Ninety percent of Massachusetts residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, compared to 79 percent of the US population. More than 99 percent of people over 60 are fully vaccinated with an initial vaccine.

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.

President Biden has encouraged Americans to think about getting annual COVID vaccines, similar to the flu shot. But only about half of Americans actually get the flu shot each year.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Booming convention business: State convention business is rebounding sharply in 2022, and is expected to return to pre-COVID levels in 2023. The number of convention attendees and hotel stays is soaring, and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s revenue shot up from $19.5 million in 2021 to a record $65.5 million in 2022. Read more.

MBTA eyes new revenue streams: The MBTA board is surveying revenue streams of other transit authorities to get funding  ideas. Options include fees on car sales, car rentals, and rideshares. London takes a cut of traffic and parking fines. There’s also gas taxes, tolls, and congestion charges. Board chair Betsy Taylor says the T needs to be inventive. 

– The survey of four US and three foreign transit authorities finds the T is the least reliant on self-generated income from fares, advertising, parking fees, and real estate. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MASSACHUSETTS 

Service providers are scrambling to find longer-term housing for migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, as some officials and advocates raise questions of whether the move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis broke any laws. (Boston Globe)  The migrants described to reporters harrowing journeys from Venezuela that finally led over the border to the US and bewilderment at ending up on an island off the Massachusetts coast. (Boston Globe

Herald columnist Howie Carr seems to take credit for the idea of DeSantis sending migrants to the wealthy enclave – while insisting he’s not taking credit for it. 

An anonymous caller claiming to work for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told town officials in Amherst and Northampton that buses of migrants were headed to their towns – an apparently unsubstantiated claim. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The Gloucester harbormaster appeals a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit alleging that the city, former mayor, and city officials created a hostile work environment. (Gloucester Daily Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Westfield woman is facing federal charges for calling in a fake bomb threat to Boston Children’s Hospital, which has been under attack lately by people opposed to its transgender surgery program. (WBUR)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Mahty – Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh to the wider world – dishes a bit on the all-night negotiations he helped steer that landed with a tentative settlement avoiding a national freight rail strike. (Boston Globe

ELECTIONS

Maura Healey may be the latest one to find out it’s not always smooth sailing for Democratic Massachusetts governors when it comes to dealing with the Democratic-run Legislature. (The American Prospect

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Advocates for “responsible gambling” call for more protections for consumers as sports betting launches. (Salem News) The Massachusetts Gaming Commission releases the latest revenue numbers for the state’s three casinos. (MassLive)

It’s not just lower-paid seasonal workers that can’t afford to live on Martha’s Vineyard. The island’s hospital offered jobs to 19 doctors, nurses, and other workers in advance of the 2022 summer and all of them turned the offers down. (Washington Post

TRANSPORTATION

Oops. A contractor painting lines on East Street in Pittsfield inadvertently spelled SCHOOL as SCOHOL. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Massachusetts has now eliminated all probation and parole fees. (Eagle-Tribune)