Byers

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

Last week, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers and Senior Deputy and Director of Health Protection Jim Craig spoke about the availability and qualifications for COVID-19 booster vaccinations.

Byers said that Pfizer boosters have been available for a while, but now, both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have received FDA emergency use authorization.

Byers said that the CDC has provided its guidelines for the use of booster doses.

“Qualifications are really based on what your initial or your primary vaccine series was,” Byers said. “If you received two doses of Moderna or two doses of Pfizer as your primary vaccine, and it’s been at least six months since you’ve completed that series, and you fall into one of the following categories. You’re 65 or older, you’re a resident in a long-term care setting, you’re over the age of 18 and you have underlying chronic medical problems that increase your risk of having severe outcomes if you’re infected, or if you are over the age of 18 and you work in a higher risk occupation that increases your risk of exposure and potential for transmission such as a healthcare worker. Then you are eligible for a booster shot. If you received Johnson & Johnson as your initial primary vaccine, one dose, and you’ve been two months or more past that dose and you’re over the age of 18, you are eligible for a booster shot.”

Byers said that there can be “mixing and matching” of the booster shots and is allowable for all three versions of the vaccine.

“We want everybody who’s eligible for a booster to go ahead and get one,” Byers said. “We know that over time, immunity may wane. The booster dose is a way to give you some additional protection for a longer term to help reduce the risk of infection, but also reduce the risk of hospitalization or more sever outcomes.”

Byers said the focus is not just on boosters, but still important to focus on getting as many people as possible to take the primary vaccine.

“Remember that right now, currently, anybody over the age of 12 is eligible for the vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson,” Byers said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, we encourage you to please go ahead and get vaccinated as quickly as you can. Remember, it takes a couple of weeks for your immune system to provide you full protection after you’ve been vaccinated. Last holidays, we saw a bump in our activity that eventually led to a pretty large surge over the winter months. Let’s try to avoid that if we can. We know the vaccine is our best bet.”

Craig said that county health departments have both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available.

Beginning Monday, Nov. 1, the county health departments will begin offering Moderna booster shots as well as Pfizer.

Anyone interested in making an appointment for the booster can visit www.covidvaccine.umc.edu.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccines are not available in county health departments, Craig said.

Craig said that people can also receive their boosters at physician offices, pharmacies, and other vaccination partners.

Visit the MSDH website at ww.msdh.ms.gov.healthyms.com or www.vaccines.gov for vaccination locations.

Craig said that free or no-cost COVID-19 testing is available in all counties in Mississippi.

“Most COVID testing is done through our partners, but for 43 counties with little to no free or no-cost testing, we continue to operate drive-thru testing in parking lots at our county health departments,” he said.

Craig said that hospitals throughout the state continue to report decreases in COVID hospitalizations and COVID patients in ICU.

“We want to thank all these healthcare heroes for their efforts during the Delta surge,” he said. “But also, please remember that COVID’s still in Mississippi and to help these heroes and our hospital systems, the best thing we can do is get vaccinated. It’s simple, it’s free, it’s safe, and vaccination opportunities are widely available.”

Craig said that MSDH will continue to help cities, organizations, businesses, etc. that are interested in hosting a COVID vaccination event in their communities. For more information, call the MS COVID-19 hotline at 877-978-6453 or email vaccinevent@msdh.ms.gov.

Monoclonal antibodies treatment can reduce the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19, Craig said. For more information about monoclonal antibodies treatment, speak to healthcare provider or visit www.healthyms.com.

Byers said that there have been continued declines in case numbers and deaths over the past few weeks.

“We’re encouraged by those continued declines and hope that we continue those downward trends,” he said. “This has helped maintain our healthcare capacity. We’ve seen less pressure on the nursing homes from outbreaks as well. Less pressure on our K-12 settings as well regarding the number of cases that we’re seeing.”

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