AUSTIN (KXAN) — The local health authority recently likened community spread of the delta variant in Austin-Travis County to “wildfire.” As cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, those who got their vaccine early in the pandemic will be eligible to get a third shot, eight months after their second dose, starting Sept. 20.
Meanwhile, the White House and other health leaders announced earlier this month that boosters should be given to people who are immunocompromised as soon as possible.
Here’s what we know about the booster shot process in Austin-Travis County.
Shots being given now for immunocompromised people
People with suppressed immune systems do not have an adequate number of white blood cells or antibodies needed to build a proper immune response to COVID-19 after being vaccinated, leaving them at higher risk for contracting the virus, and contracting a more serious case than people who are not immunocompromised and vaccinated.
With emerging COVID-19 variants that exhibit higher viral loads, immunocompromised people are recommended to get an extra dose to bring them up to the same protection levels as others, Dr. Debra Patt of Texas Oncology explained.
For the roughly 3% of people who qualify for a booster shot right now, they’re being given at all of the current Austin Public Health vaccine distribution locations, with the exception of the Ana Lark Center. Pharmacies are also distributing third doses of the vaccine.
The following immunocompromised conditions qualify for a third COVID-19 dose now:
- Active cancer treatment patients for tumors, blood-related cancers
- Organ transplant recipients who are taking medicine suppressing the immune system
- Stem cell transplant recipients within the past two years who are taking medicine suppressing the immune system
- Moderate to severe primary immunodeficiency conditions, including DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
- Individuals with advanced or untreated HIV infections
- Patients actively receiving treatment “with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response,” per the CDC
APH to start giving additional third doses Sept. 20
In a media Q&A Friday, APH leaders confirmed they will start giving third doses to people who qualify starting Sept. 20, the date put forth by the White House. Those doses will be for people who received their final Moderna or Pfizer vaccines eight months prior.
Cassandra DeLeon, APH’s chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion, said they’ve been anticipating booster shots since the first series of vaccines were rolled out late last year. She also said the rollout of a booster dose for people who are immunocompromised will help inform the process next month.
The goal is to avoid the same backlog and speedbumps APH saw earlier this year, though DeLeon says we’re in a much different place than we were in January because there is more vaccine available, and more providers.
“This gives APH the ability to focus on the underserved community,” DeLeon said.
Austin City Council directs city to put together plan by next month
Still, some Austin City Council members are worried vaccine distribution for the third shot will not be equitable.
Council member Vanessa Fuentes put forward, and council adopted, a resolution Thursday that directs the city to bring a booster shot plan before council by late next month. DeLeon says they have “no doubt” that they will meet that deadline.
Council member Fuentes, who represents a largely Latino district, says they want the city to carefully plan for those third doses to avoid some of the mistakes made earlier this year.
“What we saw with the initial vaccine rollout is that it was primarily online and for communities like mine who struggle with the digital divide, if you’re on the other side of that divide it’s going to be extremely challenging,” Fuentes said.
The resolution calls for the city to focus on several areas:
- Build on lessons learned from earlier vaccine rollouts
- Account for the need to address ongoing vaccine access issues already affecting communities most impacted by COVID-19
- Build on the city’s recent commitment to increase its community health worker staffing and improve heath education
- Create robust community engagement and communication strategy
As KXAN has previously reported, people of color have largely fallen behind in getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine
If you got the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a booster dose has not yet been federally approved, though health experts expect that is to come.
National health officials said they are still awaiting data because “administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021.”
“For those who got the J&J vaccine: We do expect that boosters will be needed in the future and we are expecting more data in the coming weeks that will help us make recommendations for people who got J&J,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in a tweet earlier this month.
Will I get side effects?
You can expect reactions to the booster similar to a flu shot, according to health experts, but it will give you much higher protection against COVID-19 and its variants.
You can find more information about third doses, and locations for those shots on Austin Public Health’s website.