Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized the rollout of booster shots for certain members of the population who have already been vaccinated for COVID-19 with the Pfzier-BioNTech shot, making 20 million Americans eligible for the extra dose to boost their immunity against the Delta variant.
On Sept. 22, the FDA authorized booster shots for all citizens age 65 and older, residents 18 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions and those who are at risk for increased transmission and infection because of their occupational or institutional setting. All qualifying New Yorkers must wait until six months after their last dose of the Pfizer shot. There is no booster shot yet available for those who received the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
Two days later, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made the executive decision to also authorize the use of the booster shots for this population. The ruling went against the agency’s advisory board, which voted to not extend the booster shot to workers at risk.
The CDC recommends the booster shot because data shows that the immunity the vaccine provides weakens over time. Clinical trials for the Pfizer booster shot increased patient’s immunity.
The main vaccine being administered through Nassau County is from Moderna. Nassau County Deputy Communications Director Mike Fricchione said that once booster shots are approved for those who received this vaccine, the county’s Department of Health will begin to roll them out. As of now, Nassau County residents 18 and older can receive the Moderna vaccine.
The booster shot is being administered in locations around the county by other providers and pharmacies though. At the state’s SUNY Old Westbury vaccination center, the third shot is being administered for the immunocompromised. Northwell Health is offering the booster shot at its Nassau County vaccination locations in Roosevelt, Hempstead and New Hyde Park. CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid locations throughout the county are also administering the additional vaccines.
Jabs For Health Workers
While the rollout is happening, there has been a slow-brewing struggle for healthcare workers. New York State’s Sept. 27 mandate deadline for workers in hospitals and nursing homes to receive at least one dose of the vaccine or face termination has passed. Those working in home care, hospice, and adult care facilities must be vaccinated by Oct. 7
But the numbers show that healthcare workers have responded to the mandate.
The state reported that 92 percent of all hospital staff in New York have received one dose of the vaccine as of the evening of Sept. 27 based on preliminary self-reported data, and 85 percent have received both shots. The percentage of those in compliance (receiving one shot or more) is up from 77 percent on Aug. 24.
Similarly, 92 percent of nursing home staff have received one shot as of Sept. 27, and 81 percent are fully vaccinated. The percentage of those in compliance jumped 15 percent over the last month, up from 71 percent on Aug. 24.
In adult care facilities, 89 percent of staff were compliant as of the evening of Sept. 27 and 82 percent were fully vaccinated, up from 77 percent the month prior.
“This new information shows that holding firm on the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is simply the right thing to do to protect our vulnerable family members and loved ones from COVID-19,” Governor Hochul said at a press conference. “I am pleased to see that healthcare workers are getting vaccinated to keep New Yorkers safe, and I am continuing to monitor developments and ready to take action to alleviate potential staffing shortage situations in our healthcare systems.”
In different healthcare networks across the county, some are seeing layoffs while others will largely be able to maintain their workforce.
In a statement, NYU Langone reported that it has a 99 percent vaccination rate across its health system.
“There will be no disruption to any of our services and no impact to the quality of patient care we deliver,” a representative said. “We continue to gather information from all of our locations with regard to last-minute vaccinations and exemptions.”
On the other hand, Northwell Health has begun the process of letting go its unvaccinated workers.
“Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances, but as healthcare professionals and members of the largest health care provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100 percent vaccinated against COVID-19.”
While vaccination rates are rising amongst healthcare workers, Hochul has a backup plan if help is needed throughout the state.
To combat the dip in available workers, Hochul signed an executive order on Sept. 27 that allows the state to utilize qualified healthcare professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, and retired or former healthcare professionals to practice in facilities. If needed, the state can also deploy medically-trained members of the National Guard to help out.
All of these measures are in place to protect residents as case counts and deaths have been on a slow rise in Nassau since the Delta variant of COVID-19 made its way to the Island.
As of Sept. 29, there were 307 new cases of the virus in the county, bringing its all-time total to 208,597 since the start of the pandemic.
Deaths have been low in recent weeks, with no deaths reported on Sept. 29. In the last month, the highest count per day was seven, down from the county’s high of 112 in May.
—Anton Media Group Editor Frank Rizzo contributed to this story