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Oct. 17, 2021

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Pfizer booster shots for older adults, those at higher COVID risk available ‘immediately,’ Washington state says

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Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster shots are available “immediately” to older Washingtonians and those at higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, state officials said Friday.

The announcement comes on the heels of a Friday recommendation from a group of public health experts who have been advising Western states’ governors on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

The state Department of Health said people 65 and older, people 18 and older living in a long-term care facility and people 50 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions or “those at increased risk of social inequities” should get a booster shot six months after their second Pfizer dose.

The state also says people ages 18 to 64 who have underlying medical conditions or who are at higher risk of virus exposure and transmission because of their “occupational or institutional setting” may also receive a Pfizer booster.

According to the CDC, at-risk occupations may include first responders (health care workers, firefighters and police), educators, food/agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, corrections staff, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers and grocery store staff. The list could be updated in the future, the CDC says.

The state DOH released its recommendations hours after the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup provided its guidance to governors of Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada on Friday.

Both recommendations fall in line with similar authorizations and guidance from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the highly transmissible Delta variant,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a statement Friday. “As COVID-19 continues to evolve, booster doses will further protect vaccinated people who are at high-risk and those whose protection has decreased over time.”

The FDA on Wednesday authorized people 65 and older who had received a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to get a booster shot at least six months after their second injection. The agency also authorized boosters for adult Pfizer recipients at high risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 or at risk of serious complications from the disease because of frequent exposure to the virus at their jobs.

The next day, the CDC followed the FDA’s recommendation and endorsed boosters for older adults and those particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Those who fall into the latter category include nursing home residents, those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems and younger people with underlying health problems — as well as people more at risk because of their jobs, like health care workers, or living situations, such as those in jails or homeless shelters, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky ruled late Thursday.

UW Medicine said Friday it’s “well-prepared” to begin administering boosters to those who qualify.

“UW Medicine has been planning for these boosters for months,” Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy, UW Medicine’s lead clinical doctor for its vaccine program, said in a statement. “We will be ramping up staffing in our larger vaccination clinics, but we also will make sure that the vaccine is available throughout our clinic.”

While this week’s announcements opened up a major new phase in the country’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, Americans are still awaiting federal decisions on boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Mixing and matching vaccine types is not recommended at this point by health officials.

In the Friday statement, the workgroup “implored the FDA and CDC to quickly find solutions to sustain the protection of the most vulnerable individuals who have received a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine.”

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