COVID-19: Booster doses of Pfizer vaccine now available for some

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are now available for individuals ages 65 and older, high-risk workers, people in institutional settings, and adults with underlying health conditions. 

The booster shot can be administered at least six months after recipients complete the two-dose series of the Pfizer vaccine.

The booster doses are currently only open to individuals who originally received the Pfizer vaccine.

On Sept. 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended Pfizer’s emergency use authorization to allow for a single booster dose, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsing a recommendation for boosters on Sept. 24.

The vaccine — named Comirnaty — was previously authorized by the FDA on Aug. 23 “for the prevention of COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 in individuals 16 years of age and older,” according to the agency.

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) began administering booster doses through clinics on Sept. 24, and, according to SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin, 117 people received their booster in Archuleta County on Saturday, Sept. 25.

Several hundred received a third dose in La Plata County, he noted.

“We were able launch those really quickly and we are seeing a good response from the community,” he said.

A press release from SJBPH lists several of the “underlying health conditions” for Pfizer booster eligibility:

• Obesity.

• Diabetes.

• Chronic lung disease.

• Significant heart disease.

• Chronic kidney disease.

• Cancer.

• Other underlying health conditions.

The press release further notes there are several other groups eligible for a Pfizer booster, including people in institutional settings or at high risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19:

• Health care workers.

• Teachers and day care staff.

• Grocery workers.

• People in long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, prisons or other congregate settings.

• First responders.

 “Studies show that after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus may decrease over time and be less able to protect against the Delta variant,” the CDC’s website states. Although COVID-19 vaccination for adults aged 65 years and older remains effective in preventing severe disease, recent data … suggest vaccination is less effective at preventing infection or milder illness with symptoms. Emerging evidence also shows that among healthcare and other frontline workers, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infections is decreasing over time. This lower effectiveness is likely due to the combination of decreasing protection as time passes since getting vaccinated (e.g., waning immunity) as well as the greater infectiousness of the Delta variant.”

“The CDC, FDA, and the scientific research now support boosters as a way to provide additional protection for our more vulnerable populations. We hope that eligible individuals will jump on this opportunity to build more immunity right away,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director, via the press release. “Residents who have been fully vaccinated are still well protected, especially against hospitalization and death, but evidence shows that a booster dose will provide even more protection. Our top priority continues to be people who have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine—answering their questions and providing easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Moderately to severely immunocompromised people ages 12 and older continue to be eligible for a third dose of an mRNA vaccine. 

For the immunocompromised, additional doses should be administered at least four weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to SJBPH.

Immunocompromised individuals 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.

 Immunocompromised individuals will be asked to self-attest for eligibility at the time of vaccination for the additional dose. If you are immunocompromised, consult with your primary care provider to discuss if an additional dose is recommended for you.

“It remains critical that all eligible residents and youth finish their vaccination series and receive both doses if receiving a two-shot vaccine,” the press release states. “Anyone who is overdue for their second dose should find a clinic that matches their original vaccine type, sign up for an appointment, and bring their vaccination record card. Studies have shown completing the two-dose regimen is the best way to ensure protection against COVID-19, and especially the Delta variant.”

How to get a booster dose

“Individuals who are eligible for the Pfizer boosters are advised to seek out a vaccine clinic or provider at their earliest convenience,” the SJBPH press release states. 

SJBPH clinics operated in partnership with Jogan Health Solutions will now administer booster shots at all scheduled clinics, as well as offering first and second doses of vaccine to those who have not completed their initial vaccine series. 

The press release notes that SJBPH has set up a recurring clinic in Archuleta County, as well as one in La Plata County, to accommodate a higher volume of patients seeking a booster dose.

The recurring Archuleta County clinic is being held at Pagosa Springs Middle School, located at 309 Lewis St., on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Appointments are recommended. 

Residents can also access booster doses of Pfizer through other enrolled providers in the region. 

“Individuals are encouraged to verify with the provider in advance that they have adequate supply of Pfizer vaccine and are able to administer the booster,” the press release notes.

Additional information about the COVID-19 vaccine, booster shots, clinics and enrolled vaccine providers can be found on SJBPH’s website: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/. 

What about Moderna, Johnson and Johnson boosters?

Additional federal and state review is needed before the population eligible for boosters expands to include people who originally received Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines, according to the SJBPH press release.

Griffin noted SJBPH is monitoring closely for when people who originally received those vaccines may be eligible for boosters, as well as when additional populations may be eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Local numbers

According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 192.8 cases per 100,000 people — up from 157.1 a week prior.

According to Griffin, between Sept. 7 and Sept. 27, 20 percent of confirmed cases were in school-aged children 5 to 18 years of age, meaning 15 of 75 confirmed cases over that period of time.

“Across the health district we have seen an increase in cases with the school-age kids,” he said.

Griffin also noted an increase among individuals 20 to 40 years of age over the same period.

According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 162.7 Wednesday — down from 176.2 a week prior.

The U.S.’s one-week rate is 232.4, down from 276 a week prior.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,365 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,336 a week prior. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 7 percent positivity Wednesday.

There continues to be two active COVID-19 outbreaks in Archuleta County.

An outbreak was confirmed at Pagosa Peak Open School on Sept. 8 with five confirmed cases — four students and one staff member.

As of Sept. 29, that outbreak was six students and one staff member.

On Sept. 15, an outbreak was identified at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center, with SJBPH reporting four confirmed cases among unvaccinated staff members.

The first case was on Sept. 6. On Sept. 29, Griffin reported that outbreak includes five staff members, with one case being a vaccinated individual.

An outbreak is identified as five cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period, or two cases in a 14-day period in congregate settings.

The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.

randi@pagosasun.com