First residents get Pfizer booster shots

The Stanly County Health Department on Monday began administering Pfizer booster shots for older Americans and those considered at high risk for complications from Covid-19, Health Director David Jenkins said. This comes after the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer booster shots last week.

The FDA authorized booster shots for a select group of people who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago. Eligible people include Pfizer recipients who are 65 and older or who live in long-term care facilities and those 50-64 who have underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, chronic lung or kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and certain disabilities. People 18 to 64 who work in high-risk settings, including health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and people who work in homeless shelters or prisons, may also receive a booster shot.

People with weakened immune systems who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines also are eligible for a third shot at least four weeks after their second dose. The third shot is actually not considered a booster shot for this population but rather is part of the recommended immunization schedule.

“A booster is recommended when there’s evidence that over time the amount of protection offered by the initial vaccine series has diminished somewhat,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of Infection Prevention at Atrium Health, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “And as the data is evaluated, groups that are at risk for more severe outcomes in particular are where the focus is.”

For now, eligible Pfizer vaccine recipients are advised to get a Pfizer booster shot, and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients should wait until booster doses are approved for their manufacturer’s vaccine. Moderna has applied for FDA authorization of booster shots, but it has not been approved.

Passaretti estimates that Moderna and Johnson & Johnson over the next few weeks will likely submit data for review to eventually get authorized for booster shots.

“The anticipation is ultimately that will come through,” she said.

About 40 people were administered the booster shot on Monday at the health department and about the same number are set to receive the shot Tuesday, Jenkins said.

Ron and Lisa Burris of Albemarle were among the first in the county to receive their booster shots. They called the health department Monday morning and made appointments for the afternoon. Ron estimates there were about a dozen other people waiting to receive the shot.

While the Burris’ received their first two doses in January and February and regularly wear masks when in public, they have had family and friends who have contracted the virus, including a second cousin who recently died.

Their doctor recommended that they receive the booster shots once they became available. Ron said he felt relieved to receive the extra protection against the virus.

“I feel a lot more assured that I’m doing what I need to do to take care of myself as well as trying to take care of my family,” Ron said. “I don’t want to expose anybody in my family and I don’t want to expose anybody else.”

The couple, who are both in their early 70s, said the process was easy and they have not experienced any lingering affects.

“The shot was painless,” said Ron. “It was an easy shot.”

“It was just a no-brainer for us to take it,” Lisa said.

The couple plan to encourage other members of their family to get the shot when it becomes more widely available to the general public.

The availability of booster shots comes during a time when the county has been struggling to fend off the current wave of infections caused by the highly transmissible delta variant, although cases did decrease last week. There have been more than 3,000 cases since July, of which more than 25 percent have been in children 17 and younger, along with 33 deaths, including 19 so far in September.

As of Tuesday, only 37 percent of Stanly residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and 41 percent have received at least one dose. By comparison, 53 percent of all North Carolinians are fully vaccinated and 57 percent have received at least one dose.

A DHHS analysis in late August found people who are unvaccinated are more than four times as likely to catch COVID-19 and 15 times more likely to die from it.

People interested in receiving booster shots can make an appointment with the health department by calling 980-323-0205. Vaccinations are available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. In addition to the health department, CVS and Walgreens locations are also offering booster shots.

Mt. Zion Lutheran Church in Richfield beginning Oct. 1 will offer vaccinations from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 13. Locust Presbyterian Church, which has been offering Pfizer shots each Friday and Saturday since late August, will conclude its services this Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.