Second COVID-19 boosters approved as U.S. faces loss of pandemic funding

30 March 2022

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — The CDC and FDA gave the green light for some Americans to receive a second COVID-19 booster this week, but they aren’t widely available in North Carolina yet.

On Tuesday, federal health officials OK’d a second round of booster shots for everyone older than 50 and immunocompromised individuals older than 12. Officials advised eligible individuals to get the additional dose at least four months after their first booster.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said providers can immediately start distributing these doses.

“The way I think about this second booster authorization is that this is another tool that we now have in our toolkit, another layer of protection that individuals can use,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, NCDHHS senior deputy director.

The Wake County Department of Health said it will start accepting appointments on Thursday. Walgreens announced it will allow appointments for second boosters on Friday. UNC Health reported it was still finalizing some logistics but expected to start the rollout early next week.

North Carolina data shows around 35% of fully vaccinated people 55 years old and older still have not received a single booster shot. Within the younger age groups, the percentage is even lower with around half of fully vaccinated North Carolinians 18 years old and up being boosted.

“We still want to continue to work hard and encourage people who haven’t gotten their very first vaccine dose to do that. That is something that offers a really high degree of protection for severe illness, hospitalizations,” Kansagra said. “It’s really important as we think about overall protection for a state, in our communities and individuals. So you know, still a lot of work to be done there.”

ABC News reported that the FDA will meet next Wednesday to discuss a plan of potentially expanding eligibility for a second booster to the younger populations. However, ABC News said a decision wouldn’t come until this summer or fall.

The CDC found people who were boosted were 21-times less likely to die from COVID and 7-times less likely to be hospitalized during the most recent Omicron surge.

The vote to expand vaccination for the country’s elder population comes as federal funding is dwindling.

“We have enough vaccine to give booster to those eligible individuals but if Congress fails to act we won’t have the supply we need this fall,” President Joe Biden said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Congress has not approved the White House’s ask of $22.5 billion in emergency funds. The lack of additional funds has already started cutting COVID-19 services across the country.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, sent a letter to the state’s federal lawmakers urging them to approve funding. Cooper said the state’s allocation of monoclonal antibody treatment has decreased by 30% this week because of a lack of funds.

Cooper also said recent COVID-19 surges have led the state to exceed its budget for testing and more supplies are needed to combat future threats.

“It’s most immediate impact will be on testing, which would not be free anymore and wouldn’t be covered,” explained Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease expert with UNC Health. “It’s very distressing to all of us in public health and who provide care to patients that we’re not getting continued funding for those critical needs.”

Weber said people who are uninsured may have a harder time accessing testing.

Kansagra said these services will still be offered free from the state’s health department but providers will have choices to make.

“For other providers, for when it comes to things like tests might be a little bit harder, they are going to have to absorb the cost of that. I certainly hope nobody ever gets turned away, but providers are going to bear the brunt of bearing the cost of a lot of the additional services and we need to provide for uninsured individuals,” she explained.

Nationwide, the White House said it will have to cut programs, including ones that reimburse providers for testing, treating, and vaccinating uninsured Americans. Throughout the pandemic, people did not need to show proof of insurance to receive a COVID test or vaccine.

The federal Uninsured Program stopped accepting reimbursement claims for testing and treatment last week and next week claims for vaccinating uninsured individuals will stop.

Kansagra stressed that no one should pay for a vaccine currently under federal law.

Throughout the pandemic, the program has paid millions of dollars to North Carolina providers, according to Cooper.

“Without the supplemental funding package, providers will have to absorb the cost or turn away the uninsured, people who are already high-risk for health crises,” Cooper wrote in his leader to federal lawmakers.

The White House said some of the impacts already seen include canceling monoclonal antibody orders and taking the U.S. out of line for future vaccine and treatment purchases.

“These issues disproportionately impact our hardest-hit and highest-risk populations, including communities of color and individuals with disabilities. The Administration continues to urge Congress to act quickly, as the consequences will continue to get worse in the coming weeks,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

“If we fail to invest, we leave ourselves vulnerable if another wave of virus hits,” Biden stressed.

Wednesday’s COVID-19 metrics showed cases and hospitalizations continue to decline across the state. However, the new variant, BA.2, now accounts for around 20% of cases across the state and is leading to upticks in cases throughout other areas of the country.

“I do expect we will see their flattening of the curve and more likely some increase of cases here in North Carolina in the next four weeks. So all the more reasons to go ahead and get that fourth dose of vaccine if you’re eligible,” Webber said.

Biden also unveiled a new one-stop COVID-19 website, COVID.gov. The site allows Americans to find locations for testing, treatment, and vaccines. The site also includes information about COVID-19 risk within individual counties.

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