(WSYM) — Two major announcements today in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is recommending masks for all students and staff this fall. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized additional COVID-19 vaccine shots for a certain portion of the population. Our Chief Health Editor Dr. Partha Nandi shares his thoughts on the state's new mask recommendation.
Dr. Nandi: Frankly, I think it's a good move, especially since children under age 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine. That makes them more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and its very contagious Delta variant. There are also a lot of students ages 12 and older who have not yet been vaccinated. As the parent of small children, I understand the concerns very well.
The Michigan Health Department's new guidance is stronger than the recommendations by the CDC, which encourages masks in schools located in the areas where community transmission is high. The state is recommending all schools mandate masks, regardless of the risk level in the area.
Here are some other new guidelines from the state:
- Students and teachers should stay 6 feet apart
- Staff who are not fully vaccinated should maintain a distance of 6 feet from other staff
- And, Schools should promote vaccinations among eligible students, staff and their families.
Question: The FDA has authorized a third vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems. Dr. Nandi, who is in this group and why is the FDA making this recommendation?
Dr. Nandi: The FDA’s decision to amend its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines comes as the nation experiences a surge in COVID cases due to the Delta variant.
The FDA says the additional dose will benefit people who are at risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19. This includes people with organ transplants, some cancer patients and others who have conditions or take medications that weaken their immune system. The CDC estimates there are about 9 million people in the U.S. who fall into this category.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that immunocompromised people who are vaccinated are still 485 times more likely to end up in the hospital or die from COVID-19 compared to the general population that is vaccinated. Data indicate two vaccine doses may not produce an adequate immune response in some people with weakened immune systems.
It's up to the Centers for Disease Control to make the official determination for the additional vaccine doses for this group of people. This afternoon, an Advisory Committee to the CDC voted in favor of the third dose.
The Committee also discussed booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccines for the general public at their meeting today. For now, the FDA says fully vaccinated people are adequately protected and don’t need an additional dose.
However, officials expect the vaccines’ protection against COVID-19 will wane over time, perhaps in a year or more. That happens with most vaccines of this nature. None provide indefinite protection.
So, it seems inevitable a third shot will be needed at some point to protect against the original coronavirus strain and its emerging variants. We just don’t know when. In the meantime, we do know the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing hospitalization and severe complications from COVID-19. Get your shot now, if you haven’t already.