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COVID-19 booster shot campaign launches

Updated September 24, 2021 - 7:06 pm

The rollout of COVID-19 booster shots began Friday in Southern Nevada, with some pharmacies offering an extra dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine even as questions remained about who exactly can or should get one.

CVS pharmacies began to give the boosters of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday at locations across the country, including 79 in Nevada, representative Steph Berhane said in an email. Walgreens said in a statement it would begin to schedule booster shots on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Southern Nevada Health District said it was ramping up to offer boosters at its dozen COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Clark County, likely starting late next week.

Federal regulators this week authorized the booster shots only for some of those who received the the Pfizer vaccine, and indicated they should be administered at least six months after the second shot. They are expected to soon take up the question of booster shots for recipients of either the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

District officials could not provide an immediate estimate of how many people in Clark County might be eligible for a booster, but said they did not expect supply to be an issue. The district’s vaccination clinics, for example, have been operating at 20 percent capacity.

“We have room for more people to come for this additional dose,” Sarah Lugo, community health nurse supervisor, said during a news briefing on Friday. “In addition, we also have the ability … to be able to scale up quickly, if it’s needed.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory panel on Thursday recommended a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for those 65 and older and those 50 to 64 with underlying health issues that put them at higher risk. The panel stopped short of recommending a shot for those 18 to 49 with underlying health conditions but said they should have the option of getting a booster shot if they wish.

The CDC’s list of risky underlying health conditions is long and includes cancer, chronic lung or kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and pregnancy.

Boosters for young, healthy

Boosters also are available to young and healthy people in certain living and occupational settings.

In an unusual move, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday night rejected the guidance of the agency’s advisory panel by also offering the shots to workers in health care or other occupations that put them at higher risk for exposure, as well as to people who live in institutional settings, such as prisons or homeless shelters.

It has been highly controversial whether young, healthy people need a booster at this point, with much of the data suggesting that this population remains protected from serious illness by the two doses they’ve already received.

However, Walensky said that extending eligibility to those in certain occupations aligns with the Food and Drug Administration’s booster authorization. Earlier this week, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said that boosters could be given to those in occupations such as health care workers, teachers, day care staff and grocery workers.

District officials said they were awaiting more specifics from the state on which occupations are considered eligible. It remains unclear, for example, whether young, healthy casino workers, many of whom have high exposure to members of the public, are eligible for a booster.

When asked about eligibility, Shannon Litz, a representative of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said the state was finalizing a technical bulletin with guidance for medical providers.

District officials also said it also remains unclear whether individuals will need to document their eligibility to receive a booster, beyond that their second shot was at least six months ago. This seems unlikely, however. The practice since COVID-19 vaccination began in the state has been that people “self-attest” that they are eligible for a shot.

Honor system expected

JoAnn Rupiper, chief administrative nurse for the district, noted that people already have been able to get a third dose of vaccine by simply self-attesting to a severely or moderately weakened immune system.

Earlier this year, people were required only to self-attest to an underlying medical condition to be prioritized for vaccine.

Berhane with CVS said that its clinics would require customers to self-attest to their eligibility for a booster, which she described as in line with CDC guidance. Walgreens said in a news release it would ask customers to verify their eligibility.

District officials said that individuals should talk to their doctor if they have questions about whether they ought to receive a booster shot.

In other developments, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, of which Nevada is a member, endorsed the recommendations of federal regulators for booster shots.

“Every vaccination moves us one step closer to recovery and our state team and vaccinating providers stand ready to implement the latest guidance,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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