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Federal regulators yesterday authorized a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for older people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its emergency use authorizations to allow the second booster dose for people 50 years of age and older at least 4 months after receipt of a first booster dose of any authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The new authorization will make a second booster dose of these vaccines available to other populations at higher risk for severe disease, hospitalization and death, the FDA said in a press release announcing the action. Emerging evidence suggests that a second booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine improves protection against severe COVID-19 and is not associated with new safety concerns.

The FDA previously authorized a second booster dose of either vaccine for certain immunocompromised individuals at least four months after their third dose. These are people who have undergone solid organ transplantation, or who are living with conditions that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise, the FDA said.

“Current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the press release. “Based on an analysis of emerging data, a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could help increase protection levels for these higher-risk individuals,” Marks said.

“Additionally, the data show that an initial booster dose is critical in helping to protect all adults from the potentially severe outcomes of COVID-19. So, those who have not received their initial booster dose are strongly encouraged to do so,” Marks said.

The FDA’s action applies only to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

The authorization of a single booster dose for other age groups with these vaccines remains unchanged.

Following FDA’s regulatory action, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday updated its recommendations to allow certain immunocompromised individuals and people over the age of 50 who received an initial booster dose at least 4 months ago to be eligible for another mRNA booster to increase their protection against severe disease from COVID-19.

“The evidence considered for authorization of a second booster dose following primary vaccination and first booster dose included safety and immune response information provided to the agency as well as additional information on effectiveness submitted by the companies,” the agency said.

The information included a summary of safety surveillance data provided to the FDA by the Ministry of Health of Israel on the administration of approximately 700,000 fourth (second booster) doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine given at least 4 months after the third dose in adults 18 years of age and older (approximately 600,000 of whom were 60 years of age or older.) It revealed no new safety concerns.

The additional dose produced increases in neutralizing antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2 virus, including delta and omicron variants, two weeks after the second booster as compared to 5 months after the first booster dose, the FDA said.

In its updated guidance yesterday, the CDC also said, based on newly published data, adults who received a primary vaccine and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine at least 4 months ago may now receive a second booster dose using an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Omicron subvariant BA.2 now the dominant variant in U.S.

The Omicron BA.2 subvariant has now overtaken Omicron BA 1.1 as the prevalent variant circulating in the U.S.

New data on circulating variants published yesterday by the CDC indicate that the BA.2 subvariant was responsible for 55% of new infections in the U.S. during the week ended March 26. The CDC updates variant estimate data weekly on Tuesdays.

The highly contagious BA.2 subvariant is estimated to be responsible for 71% of new coronavirus infections in CDC Region 2, which includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, based on specimens collected during the week ended March 26.

N.Y. State Department of Health data, most recently published for the two weeks ending March 12, indicated 42% of new infections were the Omicron BA.2 subvariant.

The number of new daily cases statewide has plummeted since the winter peak in early January, falling from more than 90,000 new cases reported on Jan. 7 to 2,400 new cases reported March 28. That is less than a third of the daily new case counts reported this time last year.

The wide availability and use of home tests is likely skewing those numbers, according to health officials. As more people are taking COVID-19 tests at home, fewer people are taking the PCR tests reported to and relied upon by health officials for surveillance.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.