What the latest votes on Pfizer booster shots mean for Georgians

In this photo, a Georgia Department of Public Health nurse gives the first inoculation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Tammi Brown, a Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager, Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020 in Savannah, Ga.  An advisory committee to the CDC on Thursday, September 23, 2021 debated whether people like her, non-elderly health care workers more than six months out from their initial vaccination with Pfizer, should be advised to get a booster shot.  (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
In this photo, a Georgia Department of Public Health nurse gives the first inoculation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Tammi Brown, a Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager, Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020 in Savannah, Ga. An advisory committee to the CDC on Thursday, September 23, 2021 debated whether people like her, non-elderly health care workers more than six months out from their initial vaccination with Pfizer, should be advised to get a booster shot. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Many Georgia adults who originally got the Pfizer vaccine can now get Pfizer booster shots against COVID-19, after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky gave the final green light just after midnight Friday.

That clears the way for large-scale booster shot operations to ramp up across the state immediately. The eligible groups include many, if not most, adults who got Pfizer at least six months ago.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health said that the state would be ready to give shots to the patient groups that are federally approved, starting Monday, September 27.

“DPH currently has adequate inventory of the Pfizer vaccine and will work to ensure accessibility to booster doses statewide,” said the spokeswoman, Nancy Nydam.

Phoebe Putney Health System, the dominant hospital and clinic system in southwest Georgia, said it is also preparing to start doling out third Pfizer doses to those who qualify.

“Phoebe is making plans to reopen mass vaccination sites,” in Albany, Americus and Sylvester, Phoebe said in an emailed statement. Phoebe is looking for volunteers, active or retired healthcare workers who can give the shots, or laypeople who can do other jobs at the sites.

Not all adults will be eligible.

First, the green light so far only applies to people who originally got the Pfizer vaccine. The booster brand under consideration was only Pfizer, and the committee wasn’t ready to discuss whether those originally vaccinated with Moderna or Johnson & Johnson should mix and match the booster shot.

Second, there were specifics for age groups.

For older people, the CDC actively recommends that they “should” get the booster shot. That goes for anyone who is at least 65 years of age, or living in a long-term care facility. For those 50 years of age to 64, CDC recommended a shot if the person has underlying medical conditions.

For younger adults, CDC suggests those in eligible groups “may” consider a booster shot, but that they weigh their individual benefits and risks. That’s because the benefit to younger people of an extra shot is less, since usually they are already so well protected by the original two shots.

In those younger groups, people aged 18 to 49 can get a booster if they have underlying medical conditions. And all of them, people aged 18 to 64, can get a booster if they are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission “because of occupational or institutional setting.”

The idea of giving boosters to adults whose jobs expose them to a lot of people has been the subject of heated arguments this week among the scientists making the decisions.

Walensky’s advisers, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, decided in a split vote not to recommend that. Some members reasoned that essentially anyone could then go get a booster when they probably don’t need it. Walensky overruled the committee.

The federal decisions are playing an outsized role in the vaccine rollout because of the role the feds had in getting them produced, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of global health at Emory University.

“Since the vaccine is owned and distributed by the government, it’s going to have to tell the states this is who should get it,” del Rio said.