Bob Leverence, MD, Chief Medical Officer, UT Health Physicians
UT Health San Antonio to offer boosters as early as mid-September for students, employees and patients.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has announced a plan to begin offering COVID-19 mRNA vaccine booster shots this fall, possibly as early as mid-September. UT Health San Antonio is currently developing plans for booster administration for its students, employees and patients. Those plans will be communicated to them as soon as they are finalized.
UT Health’s infectious disease experts continue to meet and discuss data on the evolution of the pandemic and the use of COVID-19 vaccines. Our experts will make further recommendations on the boosters for the public and our own internal constituents as they continue the thorough review of the evidence and data presented by the Centers for Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
The vaccine booster roll-out plan will be communicated in the coming weeks. In the meantime, below is helpful information that may help to clarify some of the confusion around boosters.
When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine booster?
Boosters are not available currently at UT Health San Antonio. The goal is for people to start receiving a COVID-19 booster shot beginning in the fall, with individuals being eligible starting 8 months after they received their second dose of an mRNA vaccine (either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna). This is subject to authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and recommendation by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). FDA is conducting an independent evaluation to determine the safety and effectiveness of a booster dose of the mRNA vaccines. ACIP will decide whether to issue a booster dose recommendation based on a thorough review of the evidence, which is what we expect to happen in the next several weeks.
Is the booster different than the third dose, which is available now?
Yes, a booster is different than the third vaccine dose, which is recommended for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised. People with moderately to severely compromised immune systems may not build the same level of immunity to 2-dose vaccine series compared to people who are not immunocompromised. Those who have compromised immune systems may benefit from an additional third dose to make sure they have enough protection against COVID-19. The CDC recommends people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2 doses. This additional dose intended to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series is not the same as a booster dose, given to people when the immune response to a primary vaccine series is likely to have waned over time. CDC does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population at this time. CDC recommends that people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days after a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
In contrast, a booster dose refers to another dose of vaccine that is given to someone who built enough protection after vaccination, but then that protection decreases over time (called waning immunity). The booster dose is intended to impart secondary immunity, as compared to the initial two doses of mRNA vaccine that imparts primary immunity.
Who will be the first people to get a booster dose?
If the FDA authorizes and ACIP recommends a booster dose, the goal is for the first people eligible for a booster dose to be those who were the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccination (those who are most at risk). This includes health care providers, residents of long-term care facilities, and older adults. For maximum efficacy for this booster, individuals will be eligible starting 8 months after they received their second dose of an mRNA vaccine (either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna).
If we need a booster dose, does that mean that the vaccines aren’t working?
No. COVID-19 vaccines are working very well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. However, with the Delta variant, public health experts are starting to see reduced protection against mild and moderate disease. For that reason, DHHS is planning for a booster shot so vaccinated people maintain protection over the coming months.
What if I received the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine?
The current recommendations for the third dose in immunocompromised people and plans for the booster dose in the general population applies to those who received the mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) for primary vaccination. We expect that recommendations will be forthcoming from FDA and CDC ACIP for those who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
Recommendations on how and when to receive your booster vaccination will be sent to you, and our patients, as plans are finalized. For up-to-date information for our employees, you can visit www.uthscsa.edu/coronavirus.
Information continues to change rapidly based on advancing science and the constant variation of the virus in our community and around the world. Updated information will be shared frequently as we fight this current surge and continue to learn more about the long-term implications of COVID-19.
A few important takeaways:
- Get the vaccine. Encourage family, friends and anyone you know to get it, too.
- Employees and students can schedule first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer) at Wellness 360 on the Long Campus and the MARC Vaccine Hub: Log in – COVID-19 Vaccination Scheduling (utmedicinesa.com)
- Patients and the public can schedule through MyChart or Vaccination Scheduling – COVID-19 Vaccination Scheduling (utmedicinesa.com) to receive their first/second dose at the MARC
- Third doses of the vaccine are currently available for those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.
- Employees and students can go to MyChart – Scheduling to register.
- UT Health patients can also go through MyChart to get their third dose. If a MyChart account has not been set up, one can sign up for MyChart at MyChart – Signup (utmedicinesa.com).
- Patients identified as immunosuppressed in Epic will receive a MyChart/email invitation for vaccination the week of Aug 23. For those patients who are not identified in Epic as immunosuppressed but self-identify as such will be allowed to get the third dose.
- Wear your mask and continue hand hygiene. These actions are simple, easy and effective. Remember, for all students, employees and visitors, wearing a mask is mandatory at any of our locations.
- Booster shots will be available and are expected to be administered in mid-September. DHHS has announced a plan to begin offering COVID-19 mRNA vaccine booster shots this fall yet await final approval from both the FDA and the CDC. UT Health San Antonio is currently developing plans for booster administration for its students, employees and patients. Those plans will be communicated to them as soon as they are finalized. The process is expected to be similar to how first doses of the vaccine were handled. Scheduling through MyChart is easiest and most efficient. Greatest benefit for the booster has been shown at the 8th month after the second dose of the vaccine.
- This situation is fluid. Final recommendations for the booster, including the timing, are likely to change as the authorization from both the FDA and the CDC is needed before the U.S. can distribute boosters. As the information is made available and as we adapt our plan, we will share accordingly.