COVID-19 vaccine booster shots may become available nationwide starting September 20. However, authorization and exact details on how the federal plan will be implemented are still pending. As COVID-19 and its variants continue to spread and threaten public health, it is important for long-term care providers to know and prepare for all available options to protect their residents and staff.
National vaccination rates for long-term care employees still lag behind those for residents at this time. Still, the good news is that the vaccines are working and saving lives. Vaccination continues to effectively reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death, even against the surging Delta variant. Nationwide, deadly cases among residents have declined significantly since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in December. This month, the reported COVID-19 death rate among residents is less than 1 percent. That is down from a peak of 5.73 percent for the week ending December 20.
Booster shot or additional dose?
Sometimes people with compromised immune systems do not build enough (or any) protection when they first get a vaccination. When this happens, getting another dose of the vaccine can sometimes help them build more protection against the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that these people consider receiving an additional (third) dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days after the completion of their first two doses. Third doses are currently authorized for emergency use for people who are moderate-severely immunocompromised. Including people with or undergoing:
- Active cancer treatment for tumors or blood cancer
- Active treatment with drugs that may suppress their immune response, such as high-dose corticosteroids
- Advanced or untreated HIV
- Organ transplants
- Severe primary immunodeficiency
- Stem cell transplants within the last 2 years
A “booster dose” or booster shot refers to another dose of a vaccine that is given to someone who has built enough protection after vaccination, but then that protection decreased over time. This booster dose is different than the additional dose recommended for those with a weakened immune system. Booster shots help to maximize a vaccine’s protection against infection and potential serious illness. Booster doses are not yet authorized, but healthcare experts are reviewing the data and expect to have more guidance in the near future.
Research has found that like many vaccines, there may be a decrease in the COVID-19 vaccines’ protection over time. This is especially true for people who live in long-term care settings. Implementation of the planned booster shot rollout depends on authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommendation from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The agencies’ guidance will cover the available mRNA vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) or Moderna. The FDA is conducting an independent evaluation to determine the safety and effectiveness of a booster dose of these vaccines. ACIP will decide whether to issue a booster dose recommendation based on a thorough review of the evidence. According to the CDC, people who got the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine will likely need a booster dose, but more research data is needed.
Long-term care preparation
If the FDA authorizes and ACIP recommends it, the goal is for people to start receiving COVID-19 booster shots this fall. Individuals may be eligible starting 8 months after they have received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Healthcare providers, as well as long-term care facility residents and employees, are expected to be among the first to have access to booster shots.
Although details and guidance have not been released, facilities can prepare by keeping a close watch on resident vaccination records and the dates of their last dose. They can ease the logistics of booster shots for multiple residents at different times by ensuring documentation can be easily accessed by their vaccine provider. For example, they can put vaccination information in their electronic medication administration (eMAR) system. Turenne PharMedCo is a vaccine provider through the Federal Long Term Care Pharmacy Program. We are happy to help long-term care facilities learn more about preparing for the planned booster shots rollout. Currently, our COVID-19 vaccination clinics are available for long-term healthcare customers in Alabama and Tennessee. Our immunization-certified pharmacists and nurses inoculate unvaccinated residents and staff on-site. Click here to learn more about our vaccination service in Alabama and to complete a vaccine clinic request form. For convenience, a consent form for vaccine recipients and vaccine fact sheets from the FDA are also available for download on our website. To request a clinic in Tennessee, call 1-866-710-7626.