Graham Kilmer

State DHS Approves COVID-19 Booster

Senior citizens who got Pfizer shot should get booster, as should some groups with underlying conditions or greater exposure.

By - Sep 28th, 2021 10:48 am
Dr. Ben Weston receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Ben Weston receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. File photo courtesy of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Monday that it supports the recent recommendation made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding boosters of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced Friday, Sept. 24, that the agency was moving forward with a recommendation of a Pfizer booster for certain populations.

The CDC is now recommending that anyone 65 years or older, or 50 to 64 years old with underlying conditions, who has previously received the Pfizer vaccine should receive a booster. 

The eligibility for the vaccine booster is also extended to young adults 18 years old and up that have underlying conditions or work somewhere putting them at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure. However, the CDC guidance says they “may” get the booster, whereas for the older populations, it says they “should” get the booster.

Karen Timberlake, secretary-designee of the state DHS, said in a statement, “Our nation’s leading medical experts reviewed the available data and recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster doses be provided to some people who have received the Pfizer vaccine.”

The groups now eligible for a booster are largely the same people that became eligible for the vaccine early in the rollout.

“Booster doses are intended to help people who are vaccinated maintain the highest possible level of immune system protection for as long as possible,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

The Biden administration said in August that booster shots would be available for adults by the end of September. An expert panel assembled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended boosters for the same groups announced by the CDC.

But before the CDC made that announcement, the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviewed the booster and made a stricter recommendation than the FDA panel. The ACIP committee didn’t include young frontline workers without underlying health conditions in their recommendation. But the CDC ultimately went forward with recommendations including them in eligibility for the booster shots.

In a statement announcing the new approval last week, Walensky said, “As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

The Pfizer vaccine was the first vaccine approved for emergency use by the FDA in 2020, and it remains the only COVID-19 vaccine to receive formal full approval. The Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still operating under emergency approval.

Approximately 55% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 65% of those eligible for the vaccine, people 12 years and older, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

In Wisconsin, 54% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 64% of adults 18 years and older are completely vaccinated, according to DHS data.

“It’s important to remember that all the authorized COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection after the primary series,” Westergaard said. “Getting every eligible person vaccinated continues to be our most important strategy for preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

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