Hospitals brace for rollout of modified COVID-19 boosters

With the FDA authorizing Pfizer's and Moderna's omicron-targeted vaccines Aug. 31 and the CDC meeting before Labor Day weekend, hospitals and health systems are preparing to administer the shots. 

With vaccine efficacy waning with every new iteration and mutation of the virus, federal regulatory agencies asked vaccine manufacturers at the end of June to create an updated booster shot tailored for omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. At the time, both roughly accounted for the same number of cases, but now BA.5 makes up nearly 9 out of every 10 cases. 

For the past two months, hospital supply chain, pharmacy and clinician teams have worked to prepare for the rollout as vaccine-makers sprinted to prove the shots' efficacy. 

Nick Duncan, director of operations and emergency management for Boston-based Tufts Medical Center, told Becker's the hospital is bracing for higher demand among patients and staff. The hospital also set up more stations for the omicron vaccine despite the slowed uptake in boosters. 

"We actually have already ordered double our usual amount in anticipation of large amounts of patients," Mr. Duncan said. 

Kaitlyn Rivard, PharmD, Cleveland Clinic's infectious diseases clinical pharmacist, told Becker's she could not specify the number of ordered boosters but said the health system has a "sufficient supply." 

Although the shots could become fully authorized for emergency use as early as Sept. 2, the distribution from Pfizer's and Moderna's facilities to health systems will take a few days, Dr. Rivard said, pushing the expected deadline to the second week of September. 

"With each successive iteration of COVID vaccine, it actually gets easier," Dr. Rivard said. The FDA "gave a blanket approval, which makes it much easier so we don't have to parse out which patients will and will not qualify; we can offer it to all who seek to receive their booster. And because it's a booster dose, we don't have to worry about scheduling that second or third visit like we did for the pediatric series." 

Dr. Rivard said she does not expect the rollout to be as chaotic as the original vaccine doses, when supply batches stunted access: "Being able to do a one-and-done increases our capacity for getting patients through."

The help of a "one-and-done" series could also aid with flu shots this fall. 

"Based upon public acceptability data from the CDC, we anticipate demand for the booster to be robust, particularly since the timing of this booster is at the same as annual influenza vaccination is being promoted," Michael Hogue, PharmD, Dean of Loma Linda University's pharmacy school, told Becker's.


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