NEW YORK — As soon as federal regulators approve COVID-19 booster shots for the general population, New York City’s health care system will be ready to administer them.
That’s what Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday, as he unveiled what he called the NYC Booster Shot Plan.
However, it’s not clear how soon, if at all, federal regulators will approve the widespread use of booster shots.
A booster is an additional dose of a COVID vaccine, administered at least eight months after a patient has been fully vaccinated. In most cases where a booster has been administered, it appears to significantly reduce the risk of COVID infections and symptoms, including new variants of the virus.
The mayor detailed some of what the city’s booster shot plan calls for.
“The foundation of the plan is the extraordinary number of decentralized vaccination sites we have all over the city,” the mayor said, at his daily press briefing. “Over 1,900 vaccination sites,” he continued, “[providing] unbelievable reach all over the five boroughs, and 25 city-sponsored sites that have been particularly high-impact.”
Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, gave further details.
“A booster for certain New Yorkers who received the Pfizer vaccine could get the green light as soon as next week,” Dr. Chokshi said.
“There is some scientific debate about precisely who would benefit from a booster dose,” he continued, “whether older adults or a broader population. That’s why it is important to let the expert process play out.”
That expert process involves experts at the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control. It will be up to those agencies to approve or decline widespread booster use. Currently, only people whose immune systems are compromised are eligible to receive an extra dose.
Most of the people who PIX11 News spoke with about the situation said that they favored getting a booster shot.
“If they say that it’s needed,” said Joann Petty, outside of Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, “and it’ll help prevent me from, God forbid, if I have a case of COVID, going into the hospital, I’d think it’s worth it.”
James Gallagher was on a break from work when he gave his thoughts.
“It’s worth having it,” he said, “to not get sick. At this point,” he continued, “I’m too old to get sick. So go for the booster.”
Both Mayor de Blasio and Health Commissioner Chokshi said that the city is anticipating a high demand for boosters, when and if they’re rolled out.
Still, not everyone who’s been vaccinated is eager to be vaccinated again.
David Ortiz said that he’s reluctant.
“I got COVID in February, and I waited for the right time to get a vaccination,” he said. “But to get that booster shot, who knows what’s going to happen. It’s too early on.”
He also said he’d gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Neither it nor the Moderna vaccine is close to being considered for booster approval.
The Pfizer vaccine, however, is the first one scheduled to be reviewed for booster approval by the FDA.
It has a panel set to analyze Pfizer data on Friday. The CDC is expected to review the Pfizer vaccine next Wednesday and Thursday.
There is no guarantee of approval for widespread booster use.
However, Dr. Purvi Parikh, a physician at the Allergy and Asthma Network who specializes in respiratory illnesses including COVID, said further study of boosters can only be helpful.
“Everyone’s always worried that everything’s being rushed,” she said. “This just shows that it’s not, that the system is working, and that’s why we have numerous independent groups reviewing the same data.”
“Because we want to make sure that the recommendations make sense,” she continued, “and are safe and effective for everybody.”
Dr. Parikh, who also is affiliated with NYU Langone Medical Center, also said that while the consideration of booster shots for the general population is important, that when it comes to overcoming COVID, it doesn’t compare to simply getting vaccinated in the first place.
“Even with the booster talk,” she said, “we’re still seeing that the current vaccines are still keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them from passing away.”
“So if you’re one of those who are on the fence and haven’t been vaccinated,” she continued, “please, still get vaccinated.”