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UPMC: COVID vaccines, boosters are top priority

A COVID-19 booster shot helps “remind” immune systems what they’re fighting against, UPMC officials said in a virtual Q&A session Friday.

UPMC Chief Medical Officer Donald Yealy, alongside Graham Snyder, chief medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, fielded questions about booster shots and vaccination, explaining how quickly the organization would be able to administer pending booster shots and who would benefit most from getting them.

“When you look at the vaccines, about how well they protect you from getting sick at all, we are starting to see a need to remind our immune system to remain fully prepared,” said Snyder.

Booster shots have been a hot topic over the past few months, with news breaking this week that an advisory panel of the Federal Drug Administration announced its support of a Moderna booster shot for those within certain risk categorizations.

“The operation is in place, it’s just a matter of getting the final details about how we should implement the strategy,” said Snyder.

When asked how quickly the UPMC medical system would be able to administer Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots to the public, Snyder said that it was just a matter of waiting for official approval to begin the rollout to patients.

“Essentially right after the (official approval) process is done… We have a team ready to do it,” he said. “We have a team of experts that have been following along with these proceedings so we will be ready to do it once we get to the final recommendations from our federal colleagues.”

Especially before entering winter, Yealy emphasized the need to be fully vaccinated — and to get the flu shot, too.

“Again, I think that is what is most important as we enter the fall season is… making sure that you’ve had the initial series, [and] don’t forget about the influenza vaccine. That’s seasonal, this is exactly the time to get it… Again, if you’ve had the initial full series — no matter which vaccine you chose — and you’re not in that immunocompromised group, you are still well protected — particularly if you do some of the simple things like masking, avoiding some of the tight conditions that we talk about where spread happens.”

Though the COVID vaccine booster dose was the star of the show, Yealy made it clear that the No. 1 priority still is getting as many people vaccinated against COVID as possible.

“The most important job right now in immunization is to get those who haven’t yet decided to get fully vaccinated… to the point where they are choosing the vaccine and getting the vaccine,” he said. “That is far and away the most important job right now as opposed to booster doses for most of the population.”

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