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‘Not going to boost our way out’: Tennessee health commissioner discusses booster shots, monoclonal antibody availability

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 1:16 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2021 at 1:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Department of Health held a virtual briefing Wednesday to discuss the CDC’s approval of the Pfizer booster and concerns about a monoclonal antibody treatment in the state.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey opened the briefing saying she’s “cautiously optimistic” we’re on the other side of the Delta curve as cases are decreasing or leveling off in most areas of the state.

Piercey says west Tennessee is seeing decreases in cases while east Tennessee is leveling off; however, we haven’t seen the same death peak with this wave as previous waves.

Piercey says there are a couple of reasons why the death peak is lagging, the primary reason being the average age of patient is much younger than previous waves. That’s also where there are higher numbers of unvaccinated Tennesseans.

Piercey says younger patients typically have longer ICU stays as they can tolerate more aggressive treatments, and if they succumb to the illness it’s often later than the 13 to 15 days seen in older patients during previous waves.

In good news, the health commissioner says Tennessee has not seen the expected shortage in monoclonal antibody supply. She says waning demand indicates adequate and possible even a little extra supply to finish the month of September. She does not expect having to prioritize treatment at this point.

Next, Piercey turned her attention to Pfizer boosters recently approved by the CDC. She explained the criteria for those interested in booster shots:

  • Pfizer boosters are the only boosters currently approved; therefore, you should have had Pfizer for your first shots.
  • You must have received your first two doses at least six months prior.

Next, Piercey says criteria splits into two categories: Should receive the booster or may receive the booster.

Should (high risk of severe outcome from virus)

  • Any person 65 or older
  • Long-term care facility residents
  • Any person 50 to 64 with a medical condition (obesity, high blood pressure, COPD or emphysema, heart disease, diabetes, etc.)

May (may have an advanced risk)

  • Anyone 18 to 49 with a medical condition
  • Anyone 18 or older at an increased risk based on occupational exposure (health care workers, for example)

Piercey says it’s best practice to have the same product for your booster as your first shots (Pfizer, for example); however, it’s not mandatory.

She also says documentation of medical conditions is not required to receive the booster.

Pharmacy partners (CVS, Walgreens) will work to administer boosters to long-term care facility residents just like early in the vaccination process.

Piercey says boosters for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are likely right around the corner as well as approval for the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11.

While boosters are the latest tool in fighting the pandemic, Piercey emphasized they’re not the primary focus at this point.

“We are not going to boost our way out of this pandemic,” she said. “The single most effective way for us to end this pandemic is to get the unvaccinated vaccinated. So while we’re talking about boosters, and everybody wants to make sure they’re as protected as they can be, our primary effort should be getting those who are unvaccinated to get their first dose.”

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