New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sent a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday morning strongly recommending against administering second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as the first dose to residents.
The letter comes a day after the mayor told reporters he had been discussing the possibility of using those second doses to provide more people some level of protection against the virus.
Zucker said that health experts have mixed opinions about whether second doses should be used in that manner. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently do not endorse such a move.
“The CDC has information that we do not have,” Zucker said in the letter. “The CDC has intimate knowledge of the future vaccine production schedule as it is federally controlled, and their opinion is informed by national and international medical professionals researching the virus.”
However, Zucker also said if the CDC changes its mind, the state will go along with the federal policy.
The commissioner also chastised the mayor for his recent comments about people possibly waiting to receive the second dose of the vaccine. He noted there’s a “school of thought” suggesting a delay between dosages has led to the various strains that have emerged.
Two versions of the vaccine have been approved for use, one created by Pfizer and the other by Moderna. Pfizer says recipients of its vaccine need to receive the doses 21 days apart. For Moderna recipients, it’s 28 days.
According to GoodRx.com, the delay between injections is designed to improve a recipient’s immunity to the virus. The first dose gets the body to recognize the virus and prepare the immune system, while the second dose bolsters the immune system. It’s uncertain if waiting longer between doses affects the viability of the vaccine, which is 94 percent effective for Moderna and 95 percent for Pfizer.
Zucker added that telling vaccine recipients their appointment date may not be honored may create unneeded anxiety. He also urged the mayor to focus more on getting vaccination rates up at the city’s hospitals, a point of concern for the state.
“I would ask New York City and all other local jurisdictions to continue their focus on vaccinating their (phase) 1B essential workforce and priority hospital workers and addressing the low performing hospitals,” Zucker said. “The differential in the hospital staff vaccination rate can be as high as 50 percent. We must do better.”
During de Blasio’s Thursday COVID-19 briefing, which took place after Zucker released the letter, the mayor did not seem interested in backing down on his stance.
“How do we say we’re going to leave hundreds of thousands of people with no protection at all and focus those doses only on people who already have gotten some protection?” the mayor said. “When we know that we can get them to the second dose, we can ensure that the supply is there, we can make sure when they get that second dose, we know it will be effective, but in the meantime, we can help so many more people.”
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