TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Booster shots for certain people who received the Pfizer vaccine will be more widely available soon, after the FDA officially approved boosters for people over 65 and people who are deemed “high risk.”

The booster roll-out has been marked by confusion and false starts, especially since President Joe Biden publicly pushed the efficacy of boosters in mid-August despite pushback from some public health officials. However, the FDA eventually came to its decision to approve, announced Wednesday, and officials from the CDC are meeting this week to mull the agency’s recommendation on the topic of boosters. The FDA’s move advances the possibility that boosters will be more widely available at local pharmacies, clinics, etc. soon.

Thus far, the Tompkins County Health Department’s recommendation is, as usual, in line with New York State and the pre-existing FDA and CDC recommendations (TCHD has not updated its guidance since the FDA’s decision Wednesday). Third doses have begun to be offered, though.

“As booster shots and third doses are authorized more widely, the Health Department will make information available on our website, share information directly with the public, and encourage those who are eligible to get their next dose,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “We have offered third doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine at our recent clinics for individuals who are immunocompromised and at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19, and will make additional vaccine doses available as eligibility expands.”

“Following this new information from the FDA we are anticipating further guidance from the New York State Department of Health. Once TCHD receives information on NYSDOH authorization, we will share more guidance with the local community.”

Currently, Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one that has been approved by the FDA for booster shots, though Moderna and Johnson & Johnson could receive similar approval soon.

According to the New York Times, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the current FDA commissioner, said booster shots would be made available particularly to health care workers, teachers and daycare staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others—indicating that there could be an occupation-based eligibility rollout similar to what the original vaccine rollout looked like in March and April.

Importantly, booster shots are separate from third shots. The latter have been approved for people who are immunocompromised to the extent that they may not have developed as much immunity from the first two shots of Moderna and Pfizer. More information can be found at the health department’s Q&A page on boosters. Boosters, meanwhile, are being considered for people who have been fully vaccinated for six months, at which point protection from the coronavirus may wane, as studies have indicated.

From the health department on third shots:

Currently, the CDC is recommending that moderately to severely immunocompromised people receive an additional mRNA vaccine dose, which should take place at least 28 days after the second shot. This includes people who have:

– Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood

– Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system

– Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 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 your immune response

People who are included in the above list should talk to their doctor or primary care provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them. This recommendation is only for those who received the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccine.

TCHD is encouraging all local primary care and specialty care physicians to communicate with immunocompromised patients and facilitate vaccination doses as appropriate.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com