COVID-19 booster shot? Your questions answered

Local pharmacies are now administering booster shots for people who are immune-compromised. All Americans could be eligible for a booster as soon as Sept. 20 if the plan is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pharmacies in Washington said they see an uptick in people getting vaccinated after the state’s new vaccine mandates were announced this week, but they are preparing to get even busier next month, as people who got their shots in January and February will likely become eligible to get a third shot.

With the delta variant surging and driving more breakthrough cases — even though most breakthrough cases stay mild — a lot of people said they want that vaccine booster shot.

“Yes, I do,” said Christie Douglas, who came to the QFC pharmacy in Bothell to check her eligibility. “I have a sister who is very immune suppressed, so to be around her, I want to be protective of her.”

Q: When am I eligible?

A: Right now, only people who are significantly immunocompromised are eligible.

“Examples could be people who have cancer or are undergoing cancer treatment. They take high-dose steroids, or they take injectable drugs that can weaken their immune system. Some chronic conditions include Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis, which typically require immune-compromising medications,” said Yushi Li, a pharmacist at the QFC in Bothell.

According to the White House, once eligibility opens to the general public, providers will ask people to stick to approximately eight months after their second dose to prioritize health care workers and the elderly — the same people who got their vaccines first.

Q: “I’m fairly healthy. I don’t have any underlying issues. So whether I need it or not, I don’t know,” said Tom O’Rourke, who lives in Seattle.

A: You should ask your doctor. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week revealed the latest data that shows the vaccines’ effectiveness gets weaker over time. During a White House briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky pointed to a study that followed 4,000 health care workers and first responders. It found that after the delta variant became dominant, vaccine effectiveness fell from 92% to 64%.

The White House also cited evidence of worsening breakthrough cases in countries like Israel, where delta hit earlier. That led to its recommendation that Americans should get a booster eight months after their last shot.

“Our plan right now is to get ahead of that. We don’t want to start to see that in this country,” Walensky said.

“We are lucky to be able to have the resources to offer boosters. And so I think that’s what we need to do from a public health standpoint — to keep people healthy and away from hospitals,” Li said.

Q: “Should we be going with the same one (vaccine) we got for the two-dose series?” asked Kaylie Jones, who lives in Bothell.

A: Li said getting the third booster shot that’s different from your first two shots is OK. “We do have people that mix,” Li said. “The CDC’s language is keeping it pretty flexible for us to prioritize just giving people the vaccine rather than having people hunt around town for it,” she said.

The formula for the third dose is the same as the first two shots.

Q: “Are we going to have to do this for every variant?” O’Rourke asked.

A: Scientists say we don’t know yet. But UW Medicine stated more people getting the first dose of the vaccine is what’s necessary to tamp down variants.

“In terms of thinking about the future and getting out of this pandemic and decreasing the rates of variants in the future, the only solution is to increase vaccination to people who haven’t received it in the first place,” said Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director of infection prevention at UW Medical Center.

There is no finalized plan yet for a Johnson & Johnson booster. The company plans to reveal more information on that in the coming weeks.