By Dr. Anthony Policastro

It is interesting how medical news can get misinterpreted. I had a conversation outside of church this weekend. I was told that the FDA and CDC had approved booster doses of COVID vaccine at the six month point. Public Health Centers were already giving them.

I have been following COVID-19 news very carefully. This was not what I had heard. I went back to research it. The information about the booster doses was not exactly accurate.

The first news about booster doses was on Aug. 12. On that date the FDA approved booster doses for immunocompromised individuals. That was a logical move. Those individuals do not make antibodies like the rest of us. Therefore, it made perfect sense to boost their immune system.

That created the first problem. Only three percent of the population is considered immunocompromised. Some of those individual are receiving cancer treatments. That interferes with immunity. Some have had organ transplants. They take medication to suppress the immune system. That prevents rejection of the transplant. Some people are born with a suppressed immune system. Some people have HIV infection that suppresses the immune system.

The largest group consists of those who are long term oral steroid medication for a medical condition. This does not include people taking oral steroids for a brief period. This does not include people taking low dose steroids. A lot of people take oral steroids but not enough to cause immune suppression.

Some people without an immunocompromised system did not understand this. They thought if boosters were being given, anyone could get them. That is wrong.

Unfortunately, the CDC did not make documentation of being immunocompromised required. Anyone who is immunocompromised is under a doctor’s care. Therefore, it would be logical to require the physician to write a prescription to get the booster dose. The CDC did not require that.

So people who are not immunocompromised are going to get a booster. That is really not fair. Unfortunately, they do not really understand that. It is not their fault for being confused by the information.

On Aug. 18 there was a bulletin from Health and Human Services. It said that boosters would be given at the eight month point starting on Sept. 20. On Aug. 25 Pfizer and Moderna both made submissions to the FDA to request approval for booster doses. Thus no permission from the FDA has yet been given for boosters to individuals who are not immunocompromised.

Then on Aug. 26 the Wall Street Journal issued a report from unnamed source. It said that when approval is given, it will be six months after the second shot. The result is that individuals who got their second dose six months ago think that they need one now.

That is not true yet. It might be the case in the coming weeks. However, at this point, there is no approval for boosters with normal immune systems. There is not yet verification that it will be given at the six month point as opposed to the eight month point.

The national news media has not made any of this clear. In the rush to get a news bite out, they have created significant confusion in the population at large. It even results in conversations after weekend church services. It is like the old saying “Don’t believe everything you hear in the news.” Unless I am the one saying it.

“This article reflects the recommendations at the time of its writing on Aug. 29. Updates to recommendations (like approval of FDA for booster or announcement that boosters will be six months as opposed to eight months) may occur at any time.”

COVID update- The number of new cases nationally this week rose from 1,079,000 to 1,120,000. The total number continues to rise. However, the rate of this is slowing down.

Three weeks ago there were 333,000 more cases than the week before. Two weeks ago it was 206,000 more cases than the week before. Last week the number was 156,000. This week the difference is 42,000. This suggests that the current wave may be peaking.

The situation is not as good locally. Sussex County went from 578 new cases last week to 712 this week. That is as high as it was during the surge last winter.

The CDC recommendation remains that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear a mask when indoors in a public place.

Some governors, like Ron DeSantis in Florida, have set up treatment centers throughout the state to give patients with COVID-19 infection monoclonal antibodies.

Taxpayers bear the cost. Vaccine costs $20 per dose. Monoclonal antibodies cost $1,250 per dose. Monoclonal antibodies are also under emergency use authorization like the vaccines (although Pfizer now has full approval for those age 16 and over). There is more scientific evidence for the safety of vaccines than there is for monoclonal antibodies.

From an economic and medical standpoint this makes no sense. Why wait to get a disease with an expensive unproven treatment if you can avoid it entirely with a safer, cheaper treatment.

Last week I indicated that health insurance was probably going to change for non-vaccinated individuals. Delta just announced that it plans to charge unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance.

In November 2020 (before the vaccine) health care insurers had out-of-pocket costs waived for COVID-19 infections. That included copays and deductibles. The insurance companies plan to start having non-vaccinated individuals pay these fees.

It is logical that if someone chooses to risk infection that risk should come as an out-of-pocket cost to them. We will likely see much more of this happening in the future.

On Monday Aug. 30 a CDC panel of advisors met. They felt that the evidence was not yet strong enough to recommend boosters doses for the population at large. There is not enough to suggest that a third dose would make breakthrough infections any less severe than they are now. Therefore, they recommended to the CDC that booster doses (which are currently only for immunocompromised individuals) also be given to nursing home residents and medical staff because of their increased risks.