Booster shortage may be ending soon

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | SEPTEMBER 26, 2022 

NJ Spotlight News

A health worker administers a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

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At Tiffany Natural Pharmacy in Westfield, they ran out of the new Moderna bivalent boosters about 10 days ago. Customers can still sign up to receive the Pfizer version of the reformulated COVID-19 shot, the owner said, but it could be a few weeks before Moderna is back in stock.

Tiffany is not alone. Some immunization sites in New Jersey have run out of Moderna’s new shots after manufacturing issues triggered shortages in a growing number of states. Chain drugstores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens said last week their Moderna supply was limited, according to reports, but Pfizer shots remain widely available.

“It’s not a question of are boosters available, it’s which one,” said Brian Pinto, Tiffany’s pharmacist and owner. His store received 300 doses of the Moderna shots at the start of September, “but we finished through that supply the middle of last week,” and nothing has been available since. “I got my initial shipment and then it was just crickets,” he said.

The lack of Moderna vaccine may be short-lived, at least in New Jersey. Federal officials said Tuesday they approved new batches of this vaccine for shipment. The state health department confirmed the shortage Wednesday, but by the end of the week, a spokesperson indicated it had been essentially resolved.

“The level of Moderna vaccine allocated to the state has been restored,” Nancy Kearney, a health department representative, said Friday. Pfizer shots have been available all along, she said.

It could take time for COVID-19 immunization sites to be fully restocked with Moderna. Tiffany “magically” received an unexpected box of 100 Moderna doses Wednesday, Pinto said, enough to last a few days. But he doesn’t expect a full delivery for another week or so.

Supply issues

The supply challenges come as health experts push back on President Biden’s recent statement that the pandemic is “over,” and they warn the public to remain on guard against COVID-19. In New Jersey — where thousands of people are still being diagnosed daily, nearly 800 people are hospitalized with the disease and fatalities have averaged five per day in September. State health leaders said COVID-19 remains a significant public health concern. The rate of transmission, or RT — a critical measure of spread — has been rising for two weeks and is now above 1, a threshold that indicates the disease is spreading, not shrinking.

New Jersey’s health department has received 874,000 reformulated booster doses as of last week, Kearney said, nearly 692,000 of which are from Pfizer. Orders for an additional 34,000 Pfizer doses and 35,000 Moderna shots were placed Friday, to be delivered this week. As with other COVID-19 vaccinations, the state places orders for the reformulated boosters with federal suppliers on behalf of some vaccination providers, and the shots are shipped directly to those sites.

But hundreds of vaccination providers, like Tiffany, also order COVID-19 vaccines directly from their regular pharmaceutical wholesalers. Other sites, including many of the chain drugstores, work exclusively with federal partners to obtain their vaccines.

More than 7 million New Jerseyans have received an initial series of COVID-19 shots, and nearly 4.3 million have had the original boosters. But new viral variants emerged with a capacity to spread quickly — even among people who are vaccinated — so federal officials called on vaccine makers to reformulate their shots to better protect against the new strains.

On Aug. 31, federal regulators approved the new versions, and within days, they were available nationwide. New Jersey had administered nearly 100,500 Pfizer doses and almost 65,000 Moderna doses as of Thursday, Kearney said. People over 18 years old can get either brand, regardless of what they received initially, experts note, and the state health department encourages immunizers to stock both brands.

Why the shortage?

The Moderna shortage appears to stem from questions around vaccines made at a facility owned by Catalent, a Somerset-based global pharmaceutical company that partners with others to create and develop medicines. The facility — the location of which was not clear — was not federally authorized for COVID-19 vaccine production. But on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the Catalent-made products met the federal criteria for safety, effectiveness and quality, CNN reported, and the reformulated shots could be shipped to providers. Moderna said it is still on track to deliver 70 million doses this year.

Pinto, at Tiffany, said he committed to carry both Pfizer and Moderna shots at the start. Cold storage challenges have been minimized, he said, and with a well-organized online appointment system, the pharmacy can immunize about 40 people a day. Openings for Pfizer shots have been available from the start, Pinto said, and he looks forward to reopening slots for people who want Moderna.

“Of course, one size doesn’t fit all in terms of my patient population,” Pinto said. “Some don’t want to mix and match.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-09-26 02:35:44 -0700