COVID booster shots being offered across region

Doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/TNS

LOWVILLE — North country public health departments are holding COVID-19 vaccination clinics specifically for third shots for immunocompromised people and booster shots now recommended for groups at higher risk for contracting the disease.

Data on the long-term effectiveness of the three vaccine brands currently available, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, indicates that the immunity to COVID-19 they trigger in vaccinated people can wane over time. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends booster shots for all three vaccines.

Although it has been determined that it is safe and potentially beneficial to get a booster shot of a different brand than the original vaccination — “mixing and matching” — there are differences between the shots and when they are necessary.

People who have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are encouraged to get a booster two months or more after the original shot because data has shown it “has lower vaccine effectiveness over time compared to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines” according to the CDC.

Booster shots for those who originally received Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations are recommended after six months.

Both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson booster shots are the same doses of the vaccine as the original shots. Moderna’s booster shot is half of the original dosage because testing showed that half a dose gave the same immunity boost as full doses of the other two vaccines.

“The distinction for Moderna is very important if you are severely immunocompromised,” said Jolene F. Munger, interim director of St. Lawrence County Public Health. “If you are immunocompromised, you should be getting a full third dose, not a booster dose (of Moderna).”

The CDC recommends the course of vaccination for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should be three doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines 28 days apart, not two doses.

Although many of those who are already vaccinated are well past the 28 day timeframe, third doses — not booster shots — are recommended for people in this category regardless if how long it’s been.

People whose immunity is moderately or severely compromised do not build up the same level of protection against COVID-19 in two vaccine doses as people who are not immunocompromised, according to ongoing research about the vaccines’ effectiveness over time from the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Because people with compromised immunity were not included in the original trials for the vaccines, as is often the case according to a number of medical research facilities, this discrepancy with the vaccines’ effectiveness for the immunocompromised was not detected until summer.

This lower immunity has caused more vulnerability due to the Delta variant even in vaccinated immunocompromised people, resulting in a higher number of “breakout” cases in this group.

The CDC has not yet recommended booster shots six months after the third-dose shots.

“We’re not to that point yet anyway,” said Faith E. Lustik of Jefferson County Public Health. “It’s only been two months since the third doses started and it would have to be six months after the last dose before the booster. We wouldn’t know who is qualified for that yet.”

People who are eligible to get a booster shot of any of the vaccines include those who are at least 65 years old; have underlying conditions and are at least 18 years old; or those 18 and older living or working in places that have a high risk of getting COVID-19.

The response to booster shots has been positive so far in the north country.

In St. Lawrence County, public health has administered about 400 booster vaccines since they became available and more are being given at pharmacies and in some doctor offices, Ms. Munger said. In Lewis County, Public Health Director Ashley Waite said appointments are quickly filling for the four remaining clinics scheduled so far this month.

All three counties are in the process of programming more third-dose and booster clinics.

Registration is required in all three counties for third-dose and booster clinics and can be completed on each county’s website or by calling the respective public health office.

Booster clinics scheduled for this month so far include:

Jefferson County Public Health, 531 Meade St., Watertown. Call 315-786-3770 to schedule.

- Moderna boosters Nov. 10, 1 to 2 p.m.

- Pfizer boosters Nov. 10, 2 to 2:30 p.m.

St. Lawrence County Public Health, 80 Route 310, Suite 2, Canton. Call 315-786-7059 to schedule.

- Pfizer boosters Nov. 8, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

- Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer boosters Nov. 10, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

- Moderna clinics are anticipated after Nov. 15.

Lowville Fire Hall, 5420 Parkway Dr. Call 315-376-5453 to schedule.

- Johnson & Johnson first doses and boosters Nov. 12, 9 to 11 a.m.

- Moderna first, second and third doses and boosters Nov. 12, 2 to 4 p.m.

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