INSIDE THE ISSUE
New Variant-Specific Booster Shots Approved
New booster shots tailored to attack variants of the COVID-19 virus should be available in Massachusetts as early as this week following federal approval last week of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.
Both of the recently approved vaccines are “bivalent,” meaning they combine a portion of the companies’ original vaccines with new formulations that specifically target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron lineages of the virus.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health sent notice last Wednesday indicating that once the bivalent approvals are issued the vaccines will be available in Massachusetts as soon as tomorrow, September 6, for those providers that pre-ordered them.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval last Wednesday, followed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorization on Thursday, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s sign-off also on Thursday, allow Pfizer’s 30-microgram dose for people age 12 and older and Moderna’s 50-microgram dose for those age 18 and older.
The new boosters are for those who have received the primary two-shot vaccines, as well as for anyone who has received the original monovalent boosters at least two months ago. The federal government stressed that with the approval of the new bivalent boosters, the original monovalent COVID-19 boosters are no longer authorized for people age 12 and over. Those original monovalent vaccines can still be used for primary vaccinations, but not boosters. DPH urged providers who have scheduled monovalent booster appointments with patients to reschedule them immediately with the new formulation.
Pfizer said last week that it is developing a bivalent booster vaccine for those under age 12 and expects to seek authorization for that vaccine in October.
What the recent developments mean is as follows: if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you are vaccinated and haven’t received a booster shot, get the new bivalent booster. If you are vaccinated and boosted (with either one or two booster shots), you can get the new bivalent booster shot if it has been at least two months since your last booster.
Commercialization of COVID-19 Care is Coming, Feds Say
The federal government said last week that the financial support it has been providing for free vaccines and testing will not last forever, and that it is transitioning to “full commercialization of COVID-19 countermeasures.”
Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary at the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), which is part of U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS), reviewed in an August 30 blog posting the free vaccines and therapeutics that the federal government has distributed.
She wrote, “While the federal government has been pleased to play this role, we have always known that we would not be in this business forever. We have always intended to transition this work to the commercial market and have been planning for that transition for some time now. Unfortunately, the timeline to make the transition has accelerated over the past six months without additional funds from Congress to support this work.”
Last week, HHS held a forum with more than 100 representatives from state and local government and the healthcare sector to discuss the “pathway to commercialization.” Participants were told that as early as January 2023 “the Administration anticipates no longer having federal funds to purchase or distribute vaccines and will need to transition these activities to the commercial market, similar to seasonal flu or other commercially available vaccines.” The federal supply of the therapeutics Evusheld, Lagevrio, and Paxlovid will also run out in 2023, O’Connell said, adding, “As our federal supply of these treatments runs out, we expect to transition these products to the commercial market.”
Save the Date: Schwartz Center Dinner
The always popular Kenneth Schwartz Compassionate Healthcare Dinner will be held in-person this year on Thursday, November 3 in Boston. The evening will feature remarks by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Vir.).
Happy Labor Day
“Happy Labor Day.”
People were saying that in Massachusetts in 1887, seven years before Congress designated the first Monday in September as a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the federal law in 1894. Oregon was the first state to pass a law recognizing Labor Day, on February 21, 1887. Later that year, Massachusetts passed a Labor Day law along with Colorado, New Jersey, and New York.
On this day (and on all days), MHA extends its sincere thanks and appreciation to the dedicated individuals – 197,000 of them – employed at Massachusetts hospitals, as well as to the 625,300 employed in the Massachusetts healthcare sector. Those workers have endured the toughest 30-plus months imaginable during the pandemic, and the entire commonwealth has benefited from their skill, intelligence, and compassion during this challenging time. And while most of the country takes the day to enjoy the last stretch of summer weather, many of these professionals are still on the job.
Baystate Health announced last week that Ron Bryant, the current president of Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Franklin Medical Center of the Northern Region, will also become president of Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer. He comes to the new role following the recent retirement of Molly Gray, R.N. from the position of president and chief administrative officer of Baystate’s Easter Region, which includes Wing. The transition occurs on October 9.
Sarah Iselin is the new CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, effective January 2023. She is currently COO of Blue Shield of California. Iselin has a long, distinguished career in healthcare, including her employment at MHA from 1999 to 2001 in the healthcare finance department.