FDA authorizes extra COVID vaccine dose for those with weak immune systems

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A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 to inoculate a minor at a vaccination center in Asuncion, on July 23, 2021. – Paraguay started to inoculate children and teenagers from 12 to 17 years-old with underlying diseases. (Photo by NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators on Thursday said transplant recipients and others with weakened immune systems can get an extra dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to better protect them as the delta variant continues to surge.

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration applies to millions of Americans who are especially vulnerable because of organ transplants, certain cancers or other disorders. Several other countries, including France and Israel, have similar recommendations.

It’s harder for vaccines to rev up an immune system suppressed by certain medications or diseases, so those patients don’t always get the same protection as otherwise healthy people — and small studies suggest for at least some, an extra dose may be the solution.

“This action is about ensuring our most vulnerable … are better protected against COVID-19,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said ahead of the FDA’s announcement.

Importantly, the decision only applies to this high-risk group, about 3% of U.S. adults. It’s not an opening for booster doses for the general population.

Instead, health authorities consider the extra dose part of the initial COVID-19 vaccine prescription for the immune-compromised. For example, France since April has encouraged that such patients get a third dose four weeks after their regular second shot.

Separately, U.S. health officials are continuing to closely monitor if and when average people’s immunity wanes enough to require boosters for everyone — but for now, the vaccines continue to offer robust protection for the general population.

On Friday, Metro Nashville Public Health Department released a statement about the FDA approval:

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has approved a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine for those who are immunocompromised.  The Metro Public Health Department anticipates receiving the list of the immunocompromised conditions that would be eligible to receive the 3rd dose from as early as Monday. 

Once MPHD has the guidance we will share it with Meharry Medical College and they will begin providing the third dose at Metro’s drive-thru site located on Murfreesboro Pike.  At that point MPHD will also offer the vaccine at our scheduled pop up events.  To find the calendar visit COVID19.nashville.gov.

MPHD will ONLY be offering boosters for those who meet the criteria as established by the ACIP. 

MPHD also encourages those eligible for the 3rd dose to check with the closest pharmacy, grocery location, or walk in clinic to find the vaccine at the most convenient location.

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