Hampton Roads health experts explain CDC guidance on Pfizer boosters; encourage those eligible to consult doctor

COVID-19 Vaccine

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some Americans are officially eligible for booster doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

After days of debate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory panel voted to approve boosters for people over the age of 65, nursing home residents, and people with underlying health conditions.

The panel voted against boosters for people based on where they work, but the CDC’s director diverged from that recommendation and approved boosters for people in that last category.

“It was a very roller coaster evening and then when we got up this morning and saw that Director Walensky had sided with the FDA, we feel very comfortable moving forward with offering vaccines to our healthcare workers,” said Cindy Williams, Riverside Health System vice president of pharmacy.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s decision aligns with the recommendation from the FDA. That said, the guidelines are nuanced. Here’s what you need to know:

For people over the age of 65, residents of long-term care facilities, and people ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, the CDC says they should get a booster shot.

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For people ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions and people who are at an increased risk of exposure based on where they work, they may get a booster shot.

Dr. Bogdan Neughebauer, an infectious disease specialist with Sentara, says it’s important for people to speak with their doctor, especially if they fall into the second two groups. 

“It’s going to be very much a case by case, but encouraging people to get a booster vaccine should only be helpful,” said Neughebauer. “It is always good to have clarity on how we should proceed from now on. So the fact that both the FDA and the CDC agreed on these four categories of individuals to benefit from receiving the Pfizer vaccine was definitely very helpful.”

Experts believe these boosters are another step toward ending the pandemic.

“Remember the end game in all of this, the vaccine itself and the boosters, are to stop the spread of the virus,” said EVMS Director of Master of Public Health Program Dr. Brian Martin. “The boosters help improve the defense system of the body as we have vaccine waning in those individuals who are most high risk for severe disease.”

Health experts agree: people who are eligible for a booster should consult with their doctor.

“Do their own risk assessment, but that really is difficult to do as a non-clinical or a non-scientist, so really go seek the advice of your healthcare provider,” Martin said.

The experts also acknowledge that some people who have the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines may be frustrated, as this decision on boosters currently only applies to the Pfizer vaccine.

“I would think for both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson folks, they just need to stay tuned and pay attention to what’s happening,” said Williams. “I would expect we have information on Moderna in the next two to three weeks and perhaps Johnson & Johnson in the next three to four weeks, but it’s really going to depend on getting that information to the FDA and having the FDA vote on it.”

On Friday, Virginia Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula released a statement on the latest booster approval.

“Virginia welcomes the decision from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support booster shots for certain people who previously received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working with its vaccination partners — pharmacies, healthcare providers, hospitals and other institutions — to prepare for this rollout. We are confident that we will have enough supply, and that access will be widely available.

“VDH is also establishing other vaccination sites to ensure eligible Virginians will be able to access a booster dose when it’s recommended. There is no need to rush to get your booster at six months and one day. VDH will provide information about accessing a booster dose on vaccinate.virginia.gov where you can search for and schedule a booster vaccination appointment.”

Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and a number of grocery store pharmacies across Hampton Roads have already begun scheduling COVID-19 booster shots. As long as you fall into one of the categories and its been six months since your last dose then you’re able to schedule online or via phone.

You will need to know the exact date of your last vaccine dose and will have to stick to the same brand as your previous COVID vaccine series. At this time the CDC does not recommend mixing Pfizer and Moderna.

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