SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizing emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, area healthcare organizations will begin offering booster shots to people in the Cape Fear region next week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested boosters for high-risk patients — certain individuals who received their last Pfizer-BioNTech shot (now marketed as Comirnaty) at least six months ago. At the end of July, a study revealed Pfizer’s efficacy drops to 83.7% over four months after the second dose.
The CDC said the Pfizer booster will enforce protection against the more highly contagious delta variant, which has been the cause of the nation’s fourth wave of Covid-19 spikes experienced over the last few months.
Currently, the booster should only be accessed by individuals who received the Pfizer series, which was federally approved last month. Anyone who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines should refrain from making a booster appointment, according to the CDC. The health organization is reviewing more data in coming weeks to decide how to move forward with those recommendations, and does not suggest mixing and matching vaccines at this time.
It has suggested below groups can begin scheduling the Pfizer booster:
- 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings
- 50–64-year-olds with underlying medical conditions
- 18–49-year-olds with underlying medical conditions
- 18-64-year-olds at higher risk of Covid-19 exposure and transmission because of an occupational or institutional setting
The CDC listed underlying health conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, dementia, diabetes, down syndrome, heart conditions, HIV infection, liver disease, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking (current or former), solid organ or blood stem cell transplant, stroke or cerebrovascular disease, and substance use disorder.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC’s director, clarified on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that occupational and institutional settings may include healthcare employees, teachers, public transportation workers, people in homeless shelters, prisons, or others working in vulnerable occupations. Walensky overruled the CDC advisory panel in allowing boosters for people 64 and younger working in settings that are at higher risk of Covid-19 transmission.
She told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan people have to recognize their individual risk and working conditions to make the best personal decision, especially as some states are experiencing higher rates of transmission than others (North Carolina is at 8.6 percent positivity as of Friday, Sept. 24). The goal, according to Walensky, is to boost now in order to stay ahead of the Covid-19 virus, with the hope of preventing more mutations; however, she remained reticent as to whether annual boosters will be needed.
The booster for high-risk individuals comes after the feds authorized third doses for immunocompromised individuals in August. Those doses include both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (mRNA) vaccines.
Health officials have distinguished between a third shot and booster, in that the immunocompromised may not have received enough of a protective response from their series of initial shots, therefore requiring a third dose to reach full immunization. These individuals can take a third shot 28 days after the second.
CDC’s Dr. Walensky said all Covid-19 vaccinations and boosters prevent severe illness and possible death, and will help alleviate overburdening hospital systems, which many states continue experiencing nationwide.
“It is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a release. “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”
Where can you schedule an appointment?
Locally, some pharmacies — Walgreens and CVS included — have opened appointments for booster shots. Starting Monday, Sept. 27, Brunswick County Public Health and Novant NHRMC will as well. Individuals will need to bring their vaccination card or a photo of the card to present to administrators. Anyone without a card will need to contact their vaccination host site about obtaining a duplicate copy.
Novant will be able to access cards for anyone who first received their series of vaccinations at one of its facilities. Brunswick public health will be able to access records for vaccinations given in the state of North Carolina, but out-of-state patients will need to retrieve a copy of their card.
Like the vaccines, the booster is free and proof of insurance is not required. However, administrators will ask if patients have insurance information for filing purposes only.
Individuals need not be patients of Novant Health to make an appointment for the booster. Appointments can be made online (Novant patients can use their MyChart) for the following locations:
- NHRMC Vaccination Clinic (2131 S. 17th St., Wilmington, NC) is generally open Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Select Novant Health and NHRMC Physician Group primary care clinics
To make an appointment at Brunswick County Public Health, interested parties can schedule online or call 910-253-2339. Public health is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
New Hanover County Public Health will begin allowing boosters on Wednesday, Sept. 29. Appointments can be made here. Clinics are located at Independence Mall, 3500 Oleander Dr., open Tuesday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m; and at New Hanover County’s Health and Human Services, 1650 Greenfield St., open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The CDC released its guidance on Friday, which can be read in full here.
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