CHARLOTTE – The federal government is urging third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for at-risk patients and in the coming months, expanding that to all currently vaccinated patients. Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality, and epidemiology officer, answers key questions about the distribution of the third dose, often called a booster. As always, contact your doctor with specific questions about your condition.
Who is eligible for a third dose?
There has been an emergency authorization to allow certain immunocompromised individuals to receive the third dose. Those with medical conditions or people receiving treatments that are associated with moderate to severe immune compromise include patients with:
- Active or recent treatment for solid tumor and hematologic malignancies, including blood cancers.
- Receipt of solid-organ or recent hematopoietic stem cell transplants.
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiencies such as DiGeorge syndrome and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.
- Advanced or untreated HIV infection.
- Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids and other drugs that suppress the immune system, including alkylating agents, antimetabolites, and tumor-necrosis (TNF) blockers.
- Asplenia, the absence of a spleen.
- Chronic renal disease, a condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted on this after data indicated those groups’ immunity could wane over time, making it worthwhile to give them a third vaccine dose. We’ll be giving that third dose to patients as soon as possible — probably within days.
How do you schedule a third dose?
If you’re a Novant Health patient, you can call your medical provider and schedule a vaccination. Novant Health also has walk-in clinics that administer the vaccine.
Is the third dose any different from what was in the original first two shots?
No. It’s the same as the products that people were given before.
Do you need to get the same vaccine brand for your third dose as you got for the first two shots?
If you got Pfizer the first two times, they recommend Pfizer for the third dose, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. If the vaccine brand you got the first time is not available, you can mix mRNA doses or brands. In other words, if you had Pfizer before, and you only have access to Moderna, you can get Moderna for your third dose. There currently is no guidance on Johnson & Johnson, but it’s expected soon.
What’s the timing for the third dose for non-vulnerable patients?
If you’ve had two doses, right now the guidance is eight months after your second shot. You have a window of time — it can be eight, nine, 10 or 12 months. Third doses will become available starting Sept. 20. Health care workers will be eligible first and the doses will roll out to the public from there.
We keep hearing about the delta variant. Is the vaccine really working?
- As we’ve preached from the beginning, the reason we need to get people vaccinated and to take precautions is that the longer we let this drag out, the more likely one of those variants is going to arise, and it’s going to be more difficult to deal with. So, it behooves us to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
- Remember, early in the pandemic, the typical COVID patient might infect two or three other individuals around them. But with the Delta variant, they’re likely to infect five to nine individuals around them today.
- Over 99% of those who are vaccinated have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death. We also know that 96.7% of COVID deaths this summer occurred in unvaccinated individuals. The vaccine remains incredibly effective at keeping you out of the hospital, and it tells us that we should all get vaccinated to protect those around us who are not yet eligible (kids under 12), or immunocompromised and need further protection.