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Third COVID vaccine dose now recommended for those with weak immune systems

Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 9:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A group of CDC advisers recommended Americans with the weakest immune systems receive a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

This came after the FDA authorized the additional dose for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised on Thursday. The authorization is awaiting sign-off from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, which is expected to come soon before third doses can be offered to those who qualify.

“Immunocompromised people are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. They are at higher risk for prolonged SARS-CoV-2 infection and shedding,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, medical officer for the Division of Viral Diseases, the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and the CDC.

During a Friday meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which gave the recommendation, the CDC said immunocompromised and vaccinated people comprise up to 44% of the country’s hospitalized breakthrough cases.

DHEC’s public health director, Dr. Brannon Traxler, said people who are severely immunocompromised because of an illness, condition, or medication likely did not build up the immune response to protect them from COVID that people with stronger immune systems did.

“It’s not a sign that the vaccines don’t work,” Dr. Traxler said. “I think that scientists would’ve told you that this was something that was always a possibility. We just didn’t know until we could actually get the data, whether or not it was going to occur.”

People who qualify for third doses include, but are not limited to, those undergoing cancer treatment, those who have received organ transplants, and those with immunodeficiency syndromes, like HIV.

“So they need that third dose to kind of get to that baseline that the ‘normal population,’ so to speak, started with,” Dr. Traxler said.

Dr. Traxler emphasized what is now being recommended is a third dose, not a booster shot.

She said data shows the general population, those are who are not immunocompromised, did get a good response and more protection from two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and Dr. Dooling said during Friday’s meeting that other fully vaccinated people do not need an additional dose right now.

But with many vaccines, that immune response can slowly decrease over time, so doctors are watching to see if that is happening with COVID vaccines.

“There’s becoming some more and more evidence that the general population will need, at some point maybe, a booster vaccine,” Dr. Traxler said. “However, I don’t know how near in the future that is. They’re still collecting that data.”

Dr. Traxler said a vaccine requiring a booster does not mean the vaccine did not work.

“It worked fine; it just started to wear off,” she said.

Dr. Traxler recommended people who qualify for third doses start looking for vaccine sites near them at the beginning of next week.

The CDC advised that people should try to get a shot manufactured by the same company as they did for their first two doses, and as with those shots, the third dose will be free.

This recommendation is only for people who received earlier doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The CDC said there is not enough data at this point to show that immunocompromised people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine need another dose. It said because severely immunocompromised people were among the first to qualify for the vaccine when just the Moderna and Pfizer shots were available, they likely received those shots.

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