As COVID surges, experts say Eastern Carolina booster efforts are far behind

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – With just 4 days until Christmas and COVID cases on the rise, Vidant Health leaders continue to encourage folks to get a vaccine booster shot.

On Tuesday, President Biden announced that his administration would provide 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests.

Thomas Ryan Gallaher, Vidant Health epidemiologist, says the best protection against the Omicron variant is the initial vaccine shots and boosters, specifically, mRNA vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer.

“At this point, mRNA platforms are good for six months after your second, which is why we say wait six months for the booster,” Gallaher said. “If you’re immunocompromised, for the third shot you can wait 28 days after your second.”

Though mRNA vaccines are better equipped to protect against newer variants, Keith Ramsey, Vidant Health infectious disease consultant, says we could see vaccines specifically made to contend with specific variants very soon.

“Pharmaceutical companies are working on boosters that would have Delta or Omicron in them that don’t have them originally,” Ramsey said. “…with mRNA vaccines that have the capability of doing that very quickly.”

According to Vidant Health, more than 79,000 people in Eastern North Carolina have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 73,000 have received their second dose and 7,000 have received their third.

“So only about 10 percent of our population, as best as we can tell, have received the booster,” Ramsey said. “That would be mostly Pfizer and a little bit of Moderna, so we definitely need to encourage folks to get that booster.”

Doctors also want to remind everyone that getting a different brand booster shot from your original vaccination is safe. For example, those that received one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can request another brand for their booster shot.

“That’s the preference now,” Gallaher said.

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