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Which COVID vaccine booster shot is right? Important information you should know

Nurse Samantha Gatewood gives Gregory Bowman a shot during a  trial for AstraZeneca
Clinical research nurse Samantha Gatewood gives Gregory Bowman a shot.
(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune via Tribune News Service)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 27. I’m Justin Ray.

It sounded juvenile: We can just mix and match COVID-19 vaccines?

But apparently yes, that’s exactly right; federal health officials said Americans can get a COVID-19 booster and may choose a different company’s vaccine for that next shot.

The booster news now presents a question: Which one is the best option?

Federal health officials aren’t giving any specific guidelines, other than to say it’s important to get a booster if you’re eligible. All adults with underlying health conditions are eligible for a booster dose, as are all adults who live or work in settings at higher risk for coronavirus exposure, such as employees of hospitals, schools and grocery stores.

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There’s a lot of information out there about each vaccine, but here’s a brief breakdown to bust through the booster babble:

CDC study findings

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in September analyzing vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 hospitalizations. After analyzing data from mid-March through mid-August, the agency found that between two weeks and four months after a person was fully vaccinated, the two-dose Moderna vaccine offered the highest effectiveness against hospitalization: 93%. Meanwhile, the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered 91% protection.

Researchers also analyzed immunity, which fades four months after getting the last dose. Effectiveness against hospitalizations remained quite strong for Moderna recipients — 92% — but fell to 77% for the Pfizer vaccine. Available data for the J&J vaccine showed that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization more than 28 days after getting the single-shot dose was 68%.

Does that mean J&J recipients should get a Moderna booster?

The answer is, we don’t really know. “It’s logical to believe that higher antibodies are correlated with more protection, but it’s more complicated than that,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, wrote in a previous email to The Times. There are several different components to the immune system, and the “level of antibodies doesn’t always line up with true protection.”

That said, “I think it would be reasonable for a J&J person to get either a Pfizer or Moderna shot,” Wachter said. “If they’re equally easy to get, then I might slightly favor Moderna. I’d prefer either over another J&J.”

My colleagues recently went deep into the booster debate, answering questions like: Which boosters should a Pfizer vaccine recipient get? Which boosters should a Moderna vaccine recipient get? And will boosters end the pandemic?

Further reading:

  • A panel of U.S. health advisors on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, moving the U.S. closer to beginning vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

First of all I have a request: I’m interested in hearing from people who quit their jobs over company vaccine mandates. If you or someone you know would like to share their tale, email me at Justin.Ray@latimes.com.

California tried to save the nation from the misery of tax filing — then Intuit, H&R Block and others stepped in. A coalition of tax software firms persuaded the IRS to let them provide the government’s congressionally mandated free electronic filing service meant for most Americans, which was branded Free File. And now they stand accused of using that authority to swindle taxpayers by obscuring the Free File offerings online and luring consumers to other products marketed as free, but which often include steep fees. Amid the unraveling of the industry-government partnership, California’s blueprint for ending the nightmare of tax filing for millions is getting another look at the national level. Los Angeles Times

TurboTax software
A coalition of software firms led by Silicon Valley-based Intuit, the maker of TurboTax and a colossus that boasts 73% of the market share for tax preparation services, fought against California’s plan.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

L.A. STORIES

Los Angeles police officers, firefighters and other city workers who have yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will have more time to get the shots under a plan approved Tuesday by the City Council. City workers who still haven’t followed the requirements at the end of Dec. 18 will face “corrective action,” according to the plan. Until then, unvaccinated workers will have to get tested twice a week for the coronavirus, on their own time and at the cost of $65 per test deducted from their paychecks, according to the approved plan. Los Angeles Times

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll probably love our new daily podcast, “The Times,” hosted by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Every weekday, it takes you beyond the headlines. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California has given away at least $20 billion in the form of fraudulent unemployment benefits, state officials said. That figure accounts for more than 11% of all benefits paid since the start of the pandemic. State officials blamed most of that fraud on a hastily approved expansion of unemployment benefits by Congress that let people who were self-employed get weekly checks from the government with few safeguards. “I don’t think people have captured in their mind the enormity of the amount of money has been issued errantly to undeserving people,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale. Los Angeles Times

California has reportedly hired the same company that former President Trump used to build the border wall along the southern border. Sullivan Land Services Co., or SLSCO, which is based in Galveston, Texas, got a no-bid contract from the state of California worth up to $350 million, to screen, test, and vaccinate for COVID-19 immigrants crossing California’s border, CapRadio reported. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said it was not aware of the company’s history building border walls. In an email, CDPH said SLSCO was “the largest supplier of bilingual staff” for the state’s vaccination effort and “was useful in the state’s equity campaign that resulted in more Californians in underserved communities getting vaccinated.” CapRadio

CRIME AND COURTS

The agency responsible for regulating the ride-hailing industry in the state has failed to collect consistent data on claims of assaults, threats and harassment on Uber and Lyft rides. A San Francisco Public Press investigation found that The California Public Utilities Commission, which is tasked with collecting the data, has allowed the companies to use very different interpretations of reporting requirements, raising questions about the data’s reliability. The commission’s director of news and outreach did not respond to specific questions about the data discrepancies or the letters, but in an email she acknowledged the issue. San Francisco Public Press

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Record rains transform a parched California, but ending drought remains elusive. The recent historic storm marked a welcome change for a parched California after a year of heat and drought with so little rain. But while the massive plume of moisture helped, experts said it will take much more than one storm to make a dent in the drought. The 2021 Winter Outlook recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that dry conditions are likely to persist across much of the West through at least the start of next year. “It’s been very, very dry for two years,” said Jay R. Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science. “One storm does not end that kind of a drought.” Los Angeles Times

During the pandemic, Latinos in the state used 911 more than ever before, UCLA study finds. Latinos account for 40% of California’s population, but represent 61% of its COVID cases and 47% of its deaths. The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on their community in the early days of the pandemic forced many older California Latinos to do something they normally avoid: call 911 and ask for help. That transformation in usage provides a critical opportunity to reconsider how the state’s EMS system is deployed and who works within it, say the authors of a new study by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. Capital and Main

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Veteran prop master turned down ‘Rust’ film where fatal shooting took place. Neal W. Zoromski has spent three decades in Hollywood, working on movies big and small, but never on a Western. So he was thrilled last month when he was asked to join the crew of an Alec Baldwin film in New Mexico. The veteran prop master immediately told “Rust” production managers that he was interested in the job. But during four days of informal discussions with film managers, Zoromski said he got a “bad feeling.” Los Angeles Times

Contribute to our digital Día de Los Muertos altar. Día de Los Muertos is around the corner. The holiday, celebrated in Mexico and parts of Latin America and the United States, is one of remembrance and community. The traditional way of celebrating is by making an ofrenda — an offering that often features a photo of the person being remembered, candles, foods and items specific to them, cempasúchiles (marigolds), papel picado and calaveras (sugar skulls). Inspired by those found at Grand Park and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery around this time of the year, we’ve created our own communal digital altar. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 81 San Diego: Visit a golden retriever food truck! 77 San Francisco: Overcast, 66 San Jose: 72 Fresno: 67 Sacramento: 70.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Lou Vigorita:

In the early 1970s. I was living in Ocean Beach, San Diego. One day on my commute along Harbor Boulevard to downtown San Diego to attend morning law school classes I noticed to my right in the harbor just a few yards offshore a hovering helicopter with frogmen jumping into the water. Below them was a cone shaped space capsule floating directly below. These were exercises to retrieve astronauts in the Pacific. I will never forget this exciting scene during my ordinary commute.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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