By Chandler Griffin
San Juan Basin Public Health
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now authorize mRNA COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for moderately to severely immunocompromised Americans ages 12 and older.
Booster shots should be administered at least four weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Vaccine recipients are advised to seek the same mRNA vaccine that they originally received. If the matching vaccine type is not available, immunocompromised individuals may receive the alternative mRNA vaccine.
At this time, the amended emergency use authorization (EUA) and updated CDC guidance only refers to the mRNA vaccines. There is not enough data yet to determine if a mRNA booster shot is beneficial for people who originally received a Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Boosters have not been recommended yet for immunocompromised people who originally received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
The updated guidance recommends booster shots for moderately to severely immunocompromised people. Research demonstrates these individuals may not build as much immunity when vaccinated as non-immunocompromised people do and benefit from receiving a third dose of mRNA vaccine. Immunocompromised people have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Public health experts estimate this vulnerable group is approximately 3 percent of the total U.S. population. You should seek a COVID-19 booster shot if you have:
• Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood.
• Received an organ transplant and are taking immune-suppressing medications.
• Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system.
• Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome).
• Advanced or untreated HIV infection.
• Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune system.
Consult with your primary care provider to discuss if a booster shot is recommended for you. San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) recommends immunocompromised individuals seek a booster through an enrolled vaccine provider or existing vaccine clinic of their choosing. Immunocompromised individuals will be asked to self-attest for eligibility at the time of vaccination for the additional dose. If possible, people eligible for a booster dose should seek a clinic that offers the same mRNA COVID-19 vaccine that they originally received (Pfizer or Moderna vaccine).
According to the CDC and FDA, individuals who are fully vaccinated and not immunocompromised do not need a booster shot at this time. Federal public health authorities are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary for additional populations. This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data — which can include data from specific pharmaceutical companies, but does not rely on this data exclusively. SJBPH is continuing to monitor any new guidance as it becomes available and will keep the public informed.
“We want the public to be aware that booster shots are only available for people who are immunocompromised at this time. SJBPH is prepared for larger-scale distribution of booster doses if and when the science and the CDC recommends that they are needed. We’re closely monitoring this guidance and will keep the public informed,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH. “The vaccines are working and the evidence is clear. People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the Delta variant. People who are not vaccinated remain at high risk and we urge you to get vaccinated right away.”
SJBPH is urging all community members to maintain their practice of the following critical public health precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
• Get vaccinated for COVID-19. Vaccine clinics and providers are available on the SJBPH website.
• Stay at home when feeling unwell.
• Follow the local public health advisory that is in effect.
• Employees and guests are strongly advised to wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are recommended for anyone 2 years and older.
• Physical distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from another person) is strongly advised while in a public indoor setting.
• Businesses should assume that some customers are unvaccinated and err on the side of caution, maintaining face coverings and physical distancing in indoor settings (i.e., grocery stores, gyms and restaurants).
• Wear a face covering while using public transportation and when traveling by air, train or bus, as required by federal orders.
• Practice good hygiene: wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes.
• Get tested if you have symptoms or if you are unvaccinated and believe you were exposed through a known contact or community interaction.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available to all residents ages 12 and up. Youth ages 12 to 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Minors must have a signed parental consent form which can be completed online when registering or at the clinic.
Although advance registration is preferred, walk-ins are also welcome at upcoming clinics. The vaccine is free and no ID is required. Additional clinics and information about the COVID vaccine can be found on SJBPH’s website at https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.