Local doctors said they would prefer to wait for the FDA’s decision on administering adult booster vaccinations, despite Gov. Ned Lamont’s call for vaccines for all fully vaccinated adults.
“My personal opinion is we should wait for those approvals before we release any drug or vaccine to the public in a broad way,” said Dr. Thomas Balcezak, chief clinical officer at Yale New Haven Health.
Dr. Justin Lundbye of Waterbury Hospital and Dr. Husnain Kermalli of Saint Mary’s Hospital agreed.
“I’m all about science,” Lundbye said. “What we are doing is undermining the science and more importantly, the authority of the FDA. If you have politicians coming out and saying ‘Do it,’ I think it undermines the FDA. The folks who are doubters and worried about what the federal government’s influence over their lives is, this is only going to convince them,” that vaccination is a political rather than a scientific issue.
The question of whether to administer boosters, to whom and when has been controversial. Some high-profile doctors, notably Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, have complained publicly that it is more important to increase vaccinations than administer boosters.
“We need to vaccinate the unvaccinated, not boost the vaccinated,” he told NPR.
Yale’s Balcezak agreed, noting 90% of the health system’s 74 COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. Waning immunity, he said, is “not really what’s driving our hospitalizations. What’s driving our hospitalizations are the unvaccinated. Certainly almost all of our severe illness in the hospital is driven by folks who are unvaccinated.”
Although boosters may be beneficial, he said, “we can’t lose sight of the fact that we still need to get the shots in arms for those who have never been given a vaccine.”
Currently, more Americans are getting vaccine boosters than are getting their first vaccination shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While 531,763 Americans received their first shot as of Nov. 17, a full 951,353 received boosters on the same day. Despite an 82% vaccination rate for those ages 12 and over, the highest in the country, Connecticut has lagged in booster shots – only 18.7% of fully vaccinated adults have received boosters.
A growing number of governors, from California to Colorado, Maine, Vermont and Virginia, have called for boosters in response to rising regional outbreaks. Although local doctors say waning immunity is a factor in breakthrough infections, they insist the FDA and CDC have more scientific data than politicians, and that circumventing those agencies may further erode public confidence in them.
Balcezak worried “we’re getting ahead” of CDC and FDA guidance, veering from federal protocols for the approval of health care methods.
“And when we stray outside of those lines, we run the risk of not adhering to scientific principles or to scientific evidence,” he said. “And right now, I think some of the announcements by some states are getting a little bit ahead of our traditional methods through the CDC and FDA to grant authorization and approval.”
Currently, the CDC has approved boosters for people who have received Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, are 65 and older, at high risk of infection or live and work or live in high-risk settings.
“The FDA has the greatest ability to weigh risks /benefits based on the information they gather, and they can provide us with the most clear guidelines,” Kermalli said. “The FDA and CDC weigh a number of different factors prior to authorizing this and I agree with allowing the science to help us make the best decision.”
The state’s positivity and hospitalization rates have been increasing since September. Yale New Haven Health, the state’s largest health care system, reported 72 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Thursday, a slight uptick from a month ago, but far below the 321 COVID-19 patients YNHH was treating this time last year.
“Clearly, the work around vaccines continues to have an impact … in a very positive way,” said Chris O’Connor, president of Yale New Haven Health.
Waterbury Hospital has seen a slow but steady increase in the number of COVID-19 patients, rising from nine at the beginning of the week to 12 on Thursday, a spokesperson said. Of its 12 COVID-positive patients, eight were unvaccinated and four were vaccinated. That ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated patients has held steady, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, after seeing an uptick in hospitalizations last week that it attributed to the Halloween holiday, Trinity Health of New England, which owns Saint Mary’s, said its numbers have been trending down this week, with an average of 35 COVID-19 hospitalized patients systemwide, 20% of whom were vaccinated.