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Pfizer booster shots to begin in Flathead County

by LYNNETTE HINTZE
Daily Inter Lake | September 25, 2021 12:00 AM

Flathead City-County Health Officer Joe Russell said the health department will begin giving Pfizer booster shots, now that the Centers for Disease Control’s independent advisory committee has recommended certain people get a booster shot at least six months after the completion of their Pfizer vaccine primary series.

Russell provided information from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices sent to him on Friday via the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services regarding the details of who is eligible for a booster shot. He noted the booster shots apply only to those who have had the Pfizer vaccine.

Boosters for those who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations have not been recommended by the Food and Drug Administration or ACIP at this time, the state advisory noted.

The CDC recommends:

• People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series;

• People aged 50 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions [cdc.gov] should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series;

• People 18 to 49 who are at high risk for severe Covid-19 due to certain underlying medical conditions [cdc.gov] may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks; and

• People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for Covid-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.

RUSSELL SAID the health department will “open the door” to anyone who feels they are at increased risk due to occupational or institutional settings, and have had the Pfizer vaccine.

“We are not going to pass judgment,” Russell said. “If you want a [booster] shot, who are we to tell them no? We’re not going to delve into HIPAA-protected information.

“We just have to realize there are a lot of variables around this,” Russell added.

The health department already has been giving a third dose of mRNA vaccine to highly medically compromised people, Russell said. The third dose of the vaccine is not a booster dose, but instead is an additional dose for persons in whom the immune response may have been suppressed following the first two doses, according to information provided on the health department website at flatheadhealth.org. Immunocompromised individuals include people with certain medical conditions or people receiving treatments that are associated with moderate to severe immune compromise.

THOSE SEEKING a Pfizer booster dose can attend a mass vaccine clinic on Tuesday at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. The health department is taking appointments for the clinic, but walk-ins will be accepted, Russell said.

“We’re searching for more vaccinators. We’re scraping together as many nurses as we can,” he said, noting that the department already is seeing a surge of calls for booster shot appointments.

Those seeking the booster should bring their vaccination cards with them, but health professionals also can look up a person’s records if necessary, Russell said.

The health department also will be giving the booster shots in-house by appointment. The telephone number for the health department's Covid-19 vaccine line is 406-751-8119.

“Again, if it hasn’t been six months [since a person’s second Pfizer vaccine] we can’t do it,” he stressed.

Local pharmacies also are giving the booster shots. Walgreens announced Friday that eligible individuals can now receive Pfizer Covid-19 booster vaccinations in stores nationwide, following FDA Emergency Use Authorization and new guidance from the CDC.

Russell, the former county health administrator, came out of retirement last December to lead the department through the pandemic when cases were surging last winter and the department was without an administrator. He had 30 years of experience at the Flathead City-County Health Department, including two decades as the health administrator before retiring four years ago.

His one-year contract with the county is up in December, but Russell said county officials have told him they likely won’t hire a replacement health officer right away, and have asked Russell if he’ll stay a little longer. Russell said he can offer some flexibility.

“I won’t jump ship,” he said.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.