The Food and Drug Administration has authorized COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for some immunocompromised people, and state health officials are encouraging eligible Alaskans to follow those federal recommendations and get the extra shot.
Alaskans now eligible for a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine include those who have received solid organ transplants and others with similarly weakened immune systems, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a statement Friday.
The guidance does not yet apply to people who have received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The department also said in the statement that it is “closely following news about a federal plan to offer booster doses starting in late September to all Americans who are already fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine,” but it is awaiting federal guidance before offering those booster shots more broadly.
Who is eligible for a third dose now?
Alaskans who think they may be eligible for a third dose of the vaccine because of a medical condition can talk to their doctor about their specific situation. The statement from the health department says that the new recommendation applies to “moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals,” including people who:
• Are actively receiving cancer treatment
• Have received an organ transplant and are taking immunosuppressants
• Have received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years
• Have moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (including DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
• Have advanced or untreated HIV
• Are receiving treatments or drugs that may suppress their immune response
Why did the FDA recommend a third dose for certain people with weakened immune systems?
The recommendation was based on studies that showed lower vaccine effectiveness in people with weakened immune systems, who don’t always build up enough antibodies to fight off a COVID-19 infection with just two doses of the mRNA vaccine.
In real-world studies, nearly half of hospitalized vaccine “breakthrough” cases involved immunocompromised people — and mRNA vaccine efficacy rates were around 75% for some people with weakened immune systems, compared to over 90% for the overall population.
An extra dose “reinforces and helps build the immune response to provide an acceptable level of effectiveness against a potential COVID-19 infection,” the statement from the health department said.
When and where can eligible Alaskans go to get a third shot?
The CDC recommends the additional dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine be administered at least four weeks after the second dose.
“We’re continuing to work to make sure that every vaccine facility in the state knows this is a CDC recommendation and is allowing you to get your third shot,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday.
When should most other Alaskans expect to have access to a booster shot?
Although a booster dose for the general public is not currently authorized by the FDA, the state health department said Friday it was preparing to begin offering booster doses later this fall pending federal guidance.
According to a federal plan announced Wednesday during a White House briefing, all Americans who received a two-dose vaccine will likely become eligible for a third shot eight months after receiving their second one, beginning Sept. 20.
No recommendations have been made yet for those who received the single-dose J&J shot, which was authorized a few months later than Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines. More guidance is expected soon, health officials say.