FDA recommends booster shot mixing as SF rates appear to be lagging

The federal government handed down new guidelines clearing the way for those who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, to get booster shots. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday also approved mixing and matching booster shots from your initial vaccination.

Health experts say this opens the way for a lot more people who've been waiting to get that booster to get the shot.

Medical experts are encouraging anyone in high-risk categories, the same people who got the first doses of vaccine earlier this year, to get the boosters and get prepared for the upcoming holiday season.

When they first came out it was a race to vaccinate, now health officials from the federal to the local levels are backing boosters. 

FDA had already cleared the Pfizer booster for patients since September.

Now, health officials say they're working to get those most vulnerable populations boosted. Patients say they have their reasons for delaying. "I did flu two weeks ago, and I wanted to separate it because Kaiser said, 'you can do them together.' But, I'm almost 71. I decided to separate it," said one woman.

It's part of a trend San Francisco health officials say they're seeing. Despite having an overall vaccination rate of more than 80% the rate for booster shots is lagging. 

"We don't have the numbers quite yet," said Deputy Director of San Francisco Department of Public Health, Dr. Naveena Bobba. "But, what we're hearing both in our health care system as well as our vaccine sites is that the foot traffic is not exceeding expectations. So, foot traffic is down, it does not seem like there is a lot of demand."

Dr. Bobba says the data point to diminishing effectiveness following the initial vaccinations, that's why boosters are so important. She says it's imperative for those high risk groups to receive the booster shot, including those over 65 years old, those with compromised immune systems and those who have a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19. 

She says the time for the boosters is now, before the holiday season arrives and families and friends begin gathering. 

"Even with boosters it still takes two weeks for your immune system to get you back boosted in terms of really getting yourself protected against COVID, and actually we really do think of Halloween as the kick off to the winter holiday season, lots of gatherings, lots of people coming together," said Dr. Bobba.

Those who've received the booster shots say it's given them peace of mind. "I got rheumatoid arthritis over 35 years, I take Humira, which is a biologic, which means it suppresses your immune system, so you're, you know, more prone to getting some things," said Ria McIntosh.

The FDA also authorized the mixing of boosters, so if you had Moderna or Johnson & Johnson the first time around, you can get Pfizer as a booster, and vice versa. The hope is that makes it easier for more people to get boosted sooner.