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Oregon hospitals prepare to begin Moderna and J&J booster shots

Columbia Memorial Hospital plans to begin offering its health care workers Moderna COVID-19 booster shots Friday, Oct. 29.

ASTORIA, Ore. — Some Oregon health care systems are preparing to roll out booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines in preparation for final approval from the FDA and CDC. 

"Our employees pretty much just got Moderna vaccine because we didn't have the sort of deep freezers that were required to store the Pfizer at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Chris Laman, director of pharmacy for Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. “The staff are so excited to be able to finally get it.”

Laman said more people have been wanting to get a booster shot because of the recent increase in breakthrough cases, or people who had been fully vaccinated testing positive for COVID-19.

As of Thursday, Oct. 21, Pfizer's vaccine is the only booster that’s been authorized for certain groups of people. But this week, both the FDA and CDC endorsed boosters from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The CDC panel also said it’s okay to mix and match, meaning people don’t have to get the same brand as their initial shot.

While the director of the CDC has yet to give final approval, at Columbia Memorial Hospital preparations are already underway to begin offering its health care workers Moderna COVID-19 booster shots on Oct. 29. Laman, who has been involved in Clatsop County’s vaccination program, said they're expecting to have full approval to use Moderna and Johnson & Johnson as boosters by next week.

RELATED: All 3 COVID vaccine boosters, mixing-and-matching OK'd by CDC

He’s been watching the entire process of vaccine approval and implementation closely. It’s a process that can be confusing for the general public.

“There's a lot of acronyms and other subcommittees and things like that,” said Laman.

A flow chart and blog post from the Oregon Health Authority explains the process. First the FDA, then the CDC have to grant authorization. Next, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup steps in.

“There'll be a group of western states which is Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California, that has set up their own group that will review the data and make a recommendation,” Laman said.

The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup officially endorsed the CDC's recommendations on Friday. Then it's up to the governor to give final approval. It's a long process, but it’s set up that way for a reason.

“When you're dealing with very new information that's changing all the time […] you want it to be reviewed really thoroughly so that you are making sure that it's as safe as possible. So that's why all of these steps have been put into place.”

RELATED: Oregon Health Authority reports 1,407 new COVID cases and 40 deaths

As for the current situation regarding boosters, Pfizer has been authorized for people at least six months after their last shot who meet certain criteria, including all people are 65 years and older, and those over 18 with underlying medical conditions, people over 18 who live in a long-term care setting, or who work or live in a high risk setting.

Laman reiterated that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best defense against hospitalization and death.

RELATED: Pfizer says booster shot shows 95.6% efficacy against COVID-19