County health department leaders discuss need for Covid vaccine boosters

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FILE – In this Jan. 14, 2021, file photo, police officer Jennifer Leeman is receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Englewood Health in Englewood, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Should you get a Covid booster shot? That depends, according to local county health department officials.

While there’s still a long way to go to get everyone eligible fully vaccinated, the Covid-19 boosters are of great interest to the public, but getting boosted is not an emergent or urgent issue, Dr. Louis Katz, medical director, Scott County Health Department, said Friday.

The primary series — whether a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — remain remarkably effective to prevent serious illness, and adhering to public health non-pharmaceutical intervention recommendations, especially indoor masking and physical distancing, “are much more critical for control of the pandemic in the short and medium terms,” Katz said.

“The epidemic in the QC metro area continues to accelerate and has reached levels higher than last March and April, corroborated by high hospital burdens, including ICU beds locally and regionally,” he said. For people not eligible for vaccination (school-age children and younger), immunization of their age eligible contacts and adherence to mask recommendations are critical, Katz said.

FILE – In this March 26, 2021, file photo a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site setup in Philadelphia. Religious objections, once used only sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The FDA, on advice of their independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or has authorized the use of booster doses for recipients of the primary Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

With that authorization, the CDC’s independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met Wednesday and Thursday and CDC has now recommended boosters (a single third dose at or beyond six months after completing a primary Pfizer series) for 2 groups —

  • Pfizer vaccine recipients who are 65 and older or live in long-term-care and completed immunization 6 months ago or longer (unanimously based on very modest but good data that the clinical effectiveness to prevent severe outcomes from Covid is drifting downward).
  • Pfizer vaccine recipients who are 50-64 with high-risk conditions who were immunized 6 month or longer ago. Those conditions will be enumerated when they publish their recommendations in the next several days. (This was based on evidence that boosters increase certain measures of vaccine response, but there are very limited data yet that these boosters will reduce severe outcomes)

They allow boosters for two groups based on individual risk/benefit considerations:

  • Individuals 18-49 years old immunized six months or more in the past, who have those high-risk conditions can consider the benefits vs. risks of a single booster dose. (This is, again, based on limited evidence, but attempts to be proactive in anticipation that as data evolve, clinical benefit will be measured).
  • While the ACIP was divided on boosters for people 18-64 in occupations and settings with a high risk of exposure (including, healthcare and other essential workers) based on the absence of evidence of clinical need at this point and the availability of highly effective non-pharmaceutical intervention to prevent infection, the CDC director has elected to make a recommendation permitting these boosters based on individual risk-benefit considerations.

Booster recommendations for recipients of Moderna and J&J vaccines were not made because the vaccines have no authorization for third doses, the data on the status of their protection over time are not yet mature, and information to support boosting those other vaccines using Pfizer is not yet robust, Katz said. “Stay tuned in coming weeks for possible recommendations.”

“The data being used to make these recommendations is accumulating rapidly, and the recommendations certainly will change over the next weeks and months as the data directs us,” he said. “The vaccines remain highly effective, including for serious outcomes from Delta infections, and completion of the primary series should be the main focus of our immunization programs and adherence with appropriate non-pharmaceutical interventions (masking and distancing in indoor venues) remain critical.”

Rock Island County will offer Pfizer boosters when allowed by state health department.

“We are ready to give booster shots as recommended by the CDC and. Dr. Rochelle Walensky,” Nita Ludwig, administrator, Rock Island County Health Department, said Friday. “However, we can’t give booster shots to patients until the Illinois Department of Public Health adopts the CDC’s recommendation. We will offer booster shots later today if the IDPH guidance comes. We will send out a media release when we can offer Pfizer boosters.”

Boosters only will be given to people whose second dose was at least six months ago, or March 24, she said.

The boosters could be given, pending IDPH approval, to:

  • people 65 years and older
  • residents in long-term care settings
  • people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions
  • people aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions
  • people aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting

The hours of the Rock Island County Health Department clinic are 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. “We will give boosters only to people who received the Pfizer vaccine. No approval has been given as of yet for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson patients,” Ludwig said.

“We could consider opening a mass vaccination site if demand warrants. Unlike in the spring, Covid-19 vaccines are readily available in our community at our healthcare and pharmacy partners,” she said. “Even if you received both shots of Pfizer from a health department clinic, you are not required to return to us.

“Our clinics right now require no appointment. However, if demand grows beyond social distancing capacity, we could implement a signup process,” Ludwig said. “We will communicate any process change broadly through our media partners, on our website, and through social media.”

The Health Department Friday reported an additional death from Covid-19: a man in his 50s who was hospitalized. The total number of deaths is now 351. The department noted 112 new cases of Covid since its last report on Wednesday. The total number of cases is now 17,627. Currently, 38 patients are hospitalized in the county with the virus. The average age of newly infected patients is 36.

They continue to give Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for immunocompromised people. They can be given four weeks after the second dose. The Moderna clinic is on Tuesday.

Masks are required at the health department, and social distancing guidelines will be enforced, which could require lining up outside.

Scott County still giving Johnson & Johnson vaccine each weekday

The Scott County Health Department offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the health department, 4th floor of the Scott County Administrative Center, 600 W. 4th St., Davenport.

Walk-ins are welcome – no appointments are required. All individuals age 18 years and older are eligible (based on the FDA’s emergency use authorization). The Covid vaccine is free of cost, and no identification is required. Anyone 18 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine, and Iowa/Scott County residency is not required.

Other vaccine opportunities are available throughout the Quad Cities and beyond. To search for a vaccine by manufacturer (Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer), visit vaccines.gov.

For more information, visit www.TogetherQC.com.

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