By Gina DiPietro, Novant Health Healthy Headlines
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Novant Health is administering COVID-19 boosters to children ages 5 to 11, following approval from federal regulators. And they “should” get one five months after their primary Pfizer vaccine series, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Since the pandemic began, more than 4.8 million children in this age group have been diagnosed with COVID. Of those, 15,000 have been hospitalized and more than 180 have died. As COVID cases increase across the country once again, boosters can safely enhance or restore protection that might have waned over time.
“Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind, leaving them vulnerable to serious illness,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected.”
Parents and caregivers can schedule their child’s booster vaccine in MyChart. Novant Health patients can also check their pediatric clinic’s website or Facebook page to find out if they offer it and how to schedule an appointment.
What about adolescents and adults?
Kids between 5 and 11 are simply the youngest age group to become eligible for an extra dose. Boosters are still recommended for everyone 12 and above — two months after a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or five months after the primary series from Pfizer or Moderna.
The CDC also suggests that certain people get a second booster — four months after receiving their first booster dose. This includes anyone age 12 and up who is immunocompromised, as well as any U.S. adult who is age 50 years or above.
“Over the past month we have seen steady increases in cases, with a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans,” Walensky said.
What if I have a weak immune system?
Having a weakened immune system increases the risk of severe COVID illness, which can result in hospitalization, long COVID or death. Just recently, the U.S. surpassed 1 million confirmed deaths caused by COVID-19.
To better protect those who are most vulnerable, there are different vaccine recommendations for people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
“Any patient who has a history of being moderately to severely immunocompromised should discuss whether or not they are good candidates for an additional dose with their health care provider,” said Dr. Charles Bregier, Novant Health medical director of corporate health.
“And get a fourth dose if it’s recommended,” he added.
People are considered to be moderately or severely immunocompromised if they have:
– Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or blood cancers.
– Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system.
– Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system.
– Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.)
– Advanced or untreated HIV infection.
– Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response.
As with vaccines for other diseases, you are protected best when you stay up to date with your COVID vaccines. Anyone who has yet to get theirs can find a convenient location here. And keep in mind, they are free for everyone – even those without insurance.
Why do I need a booster?
Boosters are needed because the potency of the vaccines wane over time. Decreasing antibodies isn’t unique to COVID vaccines, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer. Take the flu shot, for example, which people are encouraged to get each year.
“What a booster does is increase the amount of neutralizing antibodies, making it less likely that someone would have a serious illness that results in hospitalization – or worse,” Priest said.
“The small number of people who are vaccinated and have to be admitted to the hospital are generally over the age of 65. They were vaccinated early in the pandemic and often have other medical issues,” he added.
While Pfizer is the only COVID vaccine series approved for U.S. children ages 5 and above, a “mix and match” approach gives booster-eligible adults the ability to choose between manufacturers. Some people may prefer the vaccine type they received originally, while others may opt for a different one.
Which one should I get?
The simple answer is the one that’s most readily available. Getting any of the vaccines now is better than waiting, doctors agree.
“It’s important to remember no matter what product you get, you will have a boost in immune response,” Priest said.
Evidence shows all three vaccines are highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and reduce the spread of the virus.
But if you have a choice, here’s what to keep in mind:
– If you had an mRNA vaccine — Pfizer or Moderna — Priest advised people to stick with the same product. “I don’t think there’s much benefit in mixing and matching Moderna and Pfizer right now,” he said. But if one is not available when you go for your booster, then go ahead and get the other mRNA option, he added.
– There is a benefit in getting an mRNA booster if you received the J&J vaccine, Priest said. Studies have shown that Pfizer and Moderna boosters induced higher levels of antibodies in J&J recipients than a second J&J dose.
– If you had an adverse reaction to one type of vaccine, “you could boost with another. Talk with your medical provider as you decide,” said Aliza Hekman, a Novant Health physician assistant who specializes in infectious disease.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines recommended over J&J
In line with the CDC’s recommendation to use mRNA vaccines over Johnson & Johnson, Novant Health is exclusively offering Moderna and Pfizer COVID immunizations for the primary series. People who experienced an allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine can, however, opt to receive a J&J booster at Novant Health.
The updated guidance cited the risk of blood clots linked to J&J’s vaccine.
“I would emphasize that the adverse events the CDC includes in their latest report are incredibly rare and involve blood clotting. However, COVID-19 itself creates much higher risk of blood clots than the vaccine does. Despite these changes, J&J has been important tool and protected millions of people around the world from getting COVID,” Priest said.
Individuals who prefer or are only eligible for the J&J vaccine are encouraged to check NCDHHS or a retail pharmacy for availability.
I’ve had a breakthrough case. When can I get a booster?
The answer is when your symptoms are improved AND you are out of the quarantine period (typically 10 days), Hekman said.
Don’t I have natural immunity?
“While it’s true you will have some antibodies from COVID itself, it’s been proven that vaccination offers a more durable immunity. And with different variants circulating, I recommend getting a booster as soon as you’re eligible,” Hekman said.
“Early on in the pandemic, when vaccines were not widely available, there was some thinking that people with COVID could wait to get vaccinated because they already had some immunity. But this was meant to save vaccine doses for people who had none. With vaccines widely available, that’s not really the case anymore,” she added.
Boosters are free. Find a location near you.
Keep in mind, all COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are free for everyone — even people without insurance. Find a convenient location near you.
For people seeking a COVID-19 test, please read this advice before driving to an emergency room or testing location.