This article first appeared in the August 20 issue of the Progress Times.
Two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized an additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the TLC Pharmacy in Mission began administering the third shot to those in need.
On Aug. 12, the FDA amended the emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines for immunocompromised individuals or those with specific preexisting conditions. After spending four hours deliberating the safety and effectiveness of extra doses, the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in favor of offering the third shot to people who did not receive sufficient protection from the initial vaccine doses. This update is a response to the newest wave of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. due to the more contagious delta variant. The variant now accounts for more than 98.8 percent of cases in the States, according to the CDC.
During a lull in his full day of administering vaccines, TLC pharmacist and councilmember Beto Vela explained the process for receiving the booster.
“We have a form that the CDC gave us, and we have to fill it out. There are certain questions that are asked like ‘do you currently have COVID,’ ‘have you been treated with antibody therapy,’ ’are you immunocompromised,’ and that’s where the immunocompromised comes in because if your immune system isn’t as good, that’s who we need to help,” Vela said. “There’s a criteria that the CDC has given us, and we monitor closely and try to get everybody taken care of.”
According to the CDC, people who should consider the third vaccine dose are:
● Recipients of organ or stem cell transplants
● People with advanced or untreated HIV infection
● People currently being treated for cancer
● People taking medications that weaken the immune system
Individuals seeking the third dose will not be required to prove their current medical condition to receive the additional shot. But officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said they are prepared to offer booster shots for the non-immunocompromised population as early as Sept. 20. The third dose will roll out in the same order as the initial dose rolled out, starting with those who were vaccinated first.
“The more news they get, the more details they give us. So at this point, we’re trying to just make sure everybody has their antibodies,” Vela said. “If you have no antibodies, like we’ve noticed a lot of elderly have had no antibodies, well then it’s time for the booster because you have no coverage.”
Vela said he has seen an uptick in people getting vaccinated at his store over the last few weeks. At the location on 1242 E. Business Highway 83 in Mission, he reported about 20-30 patients a day for July, as opposed to the 200-plus patients a day for August. The pharmacist has even extended store hours to see more clients in a day. Monday through Friday, store hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays the pharmacy is closed.
The Mission City Councilmember said TLC Pharmacy has even implemented mobile units for people who cannot make the trip into town.
“If people have enough patients, we’ll go and vaccinate them at their home or at their church,” he said. “Anywhere there’s patients in need, we’ll go out there.”
TLC Pharmacy is offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The CDC recommends individuals receive the same vaccine for the third dose they received for the first two doses. For immunocompromised people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there is insufficient data to support getting an additional mRNA (Pfizer or Moderna) COVID-19 vaccine dose. U.S. health officials said they are still waiting on more data before releasing information.
The third dose is no different than the initial two doses, Vela said. At TLC, the booster shot is administered on a first-come, first-served basis. There are five immunizers on staff at the Mission pharmacy and, according to Vela, the longest part of the process is filling out the form.
“We just want the public to know this is as serious as it was when it started 18 months ago. We want to give everybody an opportunity to get vaccinated and try to combat this pandemic,” the pharmacist said. “We just want to do our part. That’s the bottom line. Everybody has to do what they can.”