PROVIDENCE — Some Rhode Islanders may be able to start getting booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine soon.
The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee held a meeting Thursday morning, just a day after the US Food and Drug Administration authorized people over 65 who had received Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine to get a booster shot at least six months after their second shot.
The subcommittee voted in support of the state health department moving ahead with implementation of boosters once the CDC has provided guidance. The subcommittee said there are about 130,000 Rhode Islanders who are eligible to receive a booster shot.
The EUA allows a booster dose for individuals:— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) September 22, 2021
➡️ 65+ years old
➡️ 18-64 years old at high risk of severe COVID-19
➡️ 18-64 whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19.
The CDC is expected to make final recommendations later Thursday.
The FDA also authorized booster shots for adult Pfizer recipients 18 and older who are considered “at high risk” of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 or are at risk of serious complications from COVID-19 because of frequent exposure at their jobs.
Those who are seen as having “frequent exposure” at their jobs could include health care workers, grocery store workers, police and fire, among others, according to Tricia Washburn, chief of the Center for Preventative Services at the state health department.
Washburn said that pharmacies are anticipated to be able to administer the majority of booster administration support, according to the subcommittee members. And it’s possible that pharmacies will be engaged through the CDC federal partnership or existing local partnerships with skilled nursing facilities.
The state’s 39 municipalities are prepared to host one clinic per month for booster shots throughout the fall, according to members. Primary care physicians who already are onboarded to administer the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to administer the booster shot. The subcommittee said it is reaching out to more PCPs to add them.
Washburn said it’s been difficult to onboard more PCPs because many providers are worried about staffing levels and have had concerns about storing the vaccine.
Mobile and pop-up vaccination clinics also will be available to administer the booster shot, according to the subcommittee.
The booster shot is an additional dose of the vaccine that is designed to be given to someone who is already fully vaccinated from that same vaccination, but is meant to increase the protection that decreases over time. Third doses of the vaccine are currently available to Rhode Islanders who are “moderately” to “severely” immunocompromised, according to state health department spokesman Joseph Wendelken.
The subcommittee said that like the state concentrated on specific populations for the vaccine rollout, it will also be prioritizing the booster shots for the most vulnerable first. These populations include those in congregate setting facilities, high-density and BIPOC populations, homebound individuals, and those in correctional facilities.
The FDA also is reviewing data regarding boosters for those who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. But that decision may not come for several weeks.
“This is going to be confusing. If this is just for those who received Pfizer [at this time], then we have to strongly state that,” said Washburn.