Featured Story

Expanded booster eligibility begins as COVID-19 cases start to climb

As new COVID-19 cases continue to trend upward as the holiday season gets underway, the next step in the fight to combat the ongoing pandemic took effect last week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both approved updated guidance to allow Pfizer and Moderna vaccine boosters to be available to anyone 18 and older. The distribution of boosters began this fall and had previously been allocated for those 65 and older and certain high-risk individuals.

Booster shots are already available at local chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

The booster for Pfizer and Moderna is available for those who are six months removed from completing their vaccine series. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine can receive the booster two months after their shot.

In a statement Saturday while updating the latest COVID-19 data, Gov. Kathy Hochul urged residents to visit vaccines.gov to make an appointment.

“There is one simple solution to ensure New Yorkers can enjoy a safe holiday season — get vaccinated if you haven’t already and get a booster shot if you have,” she said.

The expanded eligibility should help limit confusion about who can receive the booster, health officials said.

“Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., in a statement Friday. “Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose.”

Some side effects are possible after receiving the booster, as is possible with any vaccine, according to health officials. Side effects could be a sore arm where the shot was administered, headache, chills, fever, tiredness or nausea and vomiting.

“These side effects are not dangerous and are just a sign of your immune system doing its job,” according to the New York Department of Health. “Serious or long-lasting side effects are extremely rare. If you still don’t feel well after two or three days, contact your health care provider.”

The expander booster eligibility comes short after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children ages 5-11. And it comes as cases start to climb, setting up a potential for a similar spike that was seen last November through January.

There were 586 new cases reported in Suffolk County Saturday and just over 600 cases on Friday, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health. It was the second straight day cases surpassed 600. The positivity rate on a seven-day average has climbed to 4.5%. By comparison, one month ago the rate stood at 2.9%.

New fatalities continue to be reported and so far this month, there have been 34 deaths in Suffolk attributed to COVID-19. At least one fatality has been reported nearly every day of the month. Across the U.S., an average of more than 1,110 people have died per day in the last seven days of COVID-19, according to the CDC. About 41% of the U.S. population is not yet fully vaccinated.

Data continues to show fully vaccinated residents are at much less risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, although breakthrough cases do occur. And more importantly, the fully vaccinated are much less likely to require hospitalization as a result of COVID-19 infection.

“Fully-vaccinated New Yorkers had between an 89.8% and 95.5% lower chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to unvaccinated New Yorkers,” according to the State DOH.

About 67.7% of Suffolk County residents are currently fully vaccinated. The number climbs to 81.5% for those 18 or older.