On Sept. 24, officials finally recommended the use of COVID-19 booster shots to expand immunity against the virus for a few key groups.
Health care officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that people ages 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, and those ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions can get a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine if they are at least six months past their second shot. Anyone ages 18 to 64 who work in environments that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19, like first responders or essential workers, are also included.
Severely immunocompromised people were already eligible for a third dose of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose series, also six months after they received their second shot. Those who were fully vaccinated with Moderna or Johnson & Johnson were not included in the Sept. 24 announcement expanding booster eligibility. The two are currently going through the booster approval process with the CDC and FDA.
“Rest assured there is plenty of Pfizer vaccine in Arizona to accommodate not just those needing booster doses but those who need their first doses,” said Don Herrington, interim director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, in a prepared statement. “Our primary focus remains helping unvaccinated Arizonans make the lifesaving choice to take advantage of safe, free, and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines.”
In a new study regarding booster shots released on Wednesday, the CDC reported that reactions following the third dose were similar to the mild-to-moderate reactions people reported following the second dose of the Pfizer series, namely pain at the injection site, headaches, fever or chills.
Local health officials, such as Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel, who continues to host weekly briefings regarding the pandemic, say the vaccine is highly effective at preventing serious illness or hospitalization. The vast majority of Banner’s COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated, according to Dr. Bessel.
“Banner Health is not offering booster shots at this time,” Dr. Bessel said Wednesday. “We are working with many of our local pharmacies, as an example, for both patients and employees who need vaccination. I would again encourage anybody who’s out there, if you’re unvaccinated against COVID-19, please go and schedule your vaccine appointment today. There’s many appointments still available, as well as many locations that allow for walk-in.”
As of Wednesday, just 58.1% of Arizonans are fully vaccinated against the virus and approximately 12,703 new doses were reportedly administered, according to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services. The CDC said that approximately 2.21 million people in the U.S. had received additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Sept. 19.
That number is likely to grow following Friday’s announcement.
While Arizona and Maricopa County have closed their mass vaccination sites, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and hospitals are offering vaccines, including booster shots.
Monica Prinzing, a spokesperson for CVS Health, said that booster shots are being administered at over 6,000 locations across the country and approximately 111 in Arizona. That leaves plenty of options for Valley residents to receive the extra shot. CVS said that patients will need to show they are six months past their second Pfizer dose and then provide a self-attestation that they fall into the approved categories for a third dose. Advanced scheduling is strongly recommended, she said.
Walgreens is taking a similar self-attestation approach for booster vaccines. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that pharmacies across the state will be taking part in the effort, though they did not say how many were offering the extra doses in Arizona.
“Walgreens has played a vital role in responding to COVID-19 as millions have turned to us as a convenient vaccination destination and critical point of community care,” said John Standley, president of Walgreens, in a news release on Friday. “In addition to providing booster shots, our pharmacy teams remain readily available to advise patients, address questions and co-administer flu and COVID-19 primary vaccines to help protect our communities.”
For both Walgreens and CVS, those eligible can make an appointment online. Patients will likely need their vaccination cards when they go to get their booster to show they are six months past vaccination.
While Banner Health isn’t offering vaccines at any of its Valley locations, other hospitals are.
Brian O’Malley, a Valleywise Health spokesperson, confirmed that booster shots are being administered at the system’s main medical center in Phoenix, located at 2601 E. Roosevelt Street.
Anyone interested and eligible in receiving an extra dose of immunity against the coronavirus can seek out the vaccine on azdhs.gov/findvaccine. Nearly everyone in the state is within 5 miles of a provider offering the Pfizer vaccine, according to AZDHS.