Another COVID vaccine booster option available

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  • A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use in the trial at St. George’s University hospital in London, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

The state Department of Health announced Wednesday the monovalent Novavax COVID-19 booster is now available for residents 18 and older in Hawaii.

The news came shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the booster for those who would otherwise not get a Moderna or Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 booster.

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“We encourage people to get the new bivalent boosters from Pfizer or Moderna because those are the only boosters specially designed to protect against omicron subvariants,” State Health Director Elizabeth Char said in a statement. “But Novavax is an option for those who can’t get a Pfizer or Moderna booster.”

So far, over 125,000 doses of the new bivalent boosters have been administered throughout the state.

Novavax differs in that it is a protein subunit vaccine, which includes harmless proteins of the COVID-19 virus that trigger an immune response. The vaccine style has been used in the U.S. for the last 30 years and is similar to hepatitis B, whooping cough and shingles vaccines.

The added option for protection comes after COVID cases for the Big Island jumped four-fold this week, from 89 up to 372 new cases, according to the DOH.

“Any increase in case counts reminds us we still have COVID-19 in the community,” said DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr. “We encourage people to protect themselves by getting up to date on their vaccines and boosters while case counts are relatively low.”

A majority of new cases came from the Hilo area, where 72 new cases have been reported over the last 14-day period, the highest of any ZIP code on the Big Island.

A new variant also has emerged on the Big Island. The omicron subvariant BA.4.6 accounts for 5% of the total cases in Hawaii County, according to the new DOH variant report, replacing BA.4.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled BA.4.6 a “variant of concern,” and estimates it now accounts for nearly 13% of cases in the U.S.

“The BA.5 subvariant is still the dominant form of COVID-19 in Hawaii, accounting for an estimated 88% of the cases in the islands,” said Baehr. “Fortunately, the new bivalent boosters provide increased protection against the most common variants, including BA.5 and BA.4.6.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also voted unanimously Wednesday to add COVID-19 vaccines to the “Vaccine for Kids” program, which provides shots to kids under the age of 19 whose families cannot afford them.

Children are eligible for the program if they qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured, underinsured or Native American.

Including COVID vaccines in the program does not make them a required routine childhood vaccination for school, confirmed Dr. Jose Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. Instead, that decision is left to individual states.

CDC official Dr. Jeanne Santoli said the public health agency will start awarding contracts immediately for health care providers to give the COVID shots for free to uninsured kids.

“The Department of Health supports equitable access to vaccines and other health care,” Baehr said in response to the decision. “While the CDC is moving toward ensuring COVID-19 vaccines will be free to families that cannot afford them in the future, it is important to know COVID-19 vaccines are free to everyone including children now.”

Email Grant Phillips at gphillips@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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