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Health & Science

How to Get a COVID-19 Booster Shot in Northeast Ohio

worker administers a vaccine
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Booster shots are being administered to certain vulnerable groups in Northeast Ohio, and the general public could be eligible soon.

Northeast Ohio hospitals, pharmacies and health care centers are gearing up to administer booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the go-ahead for immunocompromised individuals to get an additional dose of the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines. The booster shot will help strengthen protection against emerging COVID-19 variants, officials said.

Now, the agencies are considering a booster for everyone. Pending this approval, federal health officials said Wednesday the general public could start getting booster shots as early as Sept. 20.

If and when the booster shots are authorized for the general public, federal officials said people will become eligible eight months after their second dose. 

If the booster is authorized, distribution across Northeast Ohio will likely be similar to how it works for the flu shot, because the supply is so widespread at this point, said Dr. Michelle Medina, associate chief of clinical operations at Cleveland Clinic Community Care.

“We have so many places where people can get vaccines now. It’s such a distributed mechanism now,” she said. “As long as it’s actually within the appropriate time frame and the appropriate product, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be able to get it anywhere.” 

Individuals will not necessarily have to go to their original provider for the third dose, she added.

For example, if someone received their shot at the mass vaccination clinic at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, which closed in June, that person could likely call his physician’s office or local pharmacy and schedule the booster there.

The rollout of the third dose for immunocompromised patients in Northeast Ohio is already underway.

Cleveland Clinic began scheduling appointments for immunocompromised patients this week, Medina said. Patients can sign up through MyChart or call the hospital system’s scheduling line, she said.

At Akron Children’s Hospital, officials are reaching out to their eligible patients and getting them scheduled for the shot, said Dr. Rob McGregor, chief medical officer.

“We’ve been able to deploy vaccines in all of our regional primary care offices and our urgent care areas, so there’s lots of places throughout the state,” McGregor said. “So, we just need to identify the population that would fit, contact them, and it should be relatively easy for them to get access.” 

At UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s, immunocompromised patients and their families can call their UH primary care physician to get an appointment, said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of infection control.

“We’ve been getting lots of calls and getting those people scheduled for vaccines,” Hoyen said.

Examples of eligible patients include individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, organ transplant recipients and cancer patients.

Local health departments are also offering the booster shot. Summit County Public Health is having clinics for eligible individuals on Wednesdays.

Officials at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health encourage immunocompromised individuals who received a shot through them to contact their primary care physician to schedule an appointment at a different provider, such as their doctor’s office or a local pharmacy, according to a spokesperson.

Hospitals and health departments are also preparing to vaccinate the general population.

McGregor at Akron Children’s said they are planning vaccine clinics for their front-line workers, who were first in line for the shots and may soon be eligible for a booster. 

The hospital, like others across the state, is currently facing staffing challenges, he said, so they will pull employees away from other duties to help administer the boosters.

“Every department in the hospital, whether they’re a clinical department or not, does have some clinicians or former clinicians,” McGregor said. “There are plenty of nurses … that could be deployed, and we’d just alter their daily work for a while.”

The hospital will also plan vaccine clinics for all patients who are eligible for the third dose when the time comes, he added.

University Hospitals patients will be able to receive the additional dose at their primary care offices, Hoyen said.

“You’ll be able to contact your doctor’s office. We’re working furiously over the last four weeks to get many offices set up,” she said. “Even if for some reason your UH primary care provider’s office isn’t the office that’s getting it, there will be an office close in that area. We’re really trying to make it much more convenient for people to get their shots.”  

Medina said a vaccine site likely would not turn someone away if they came in early for their booster, but providers would highly encourage the person to wait because of availability and supply. Fully vaccinated individuals are well-protected for at least eight months, she said, and there’s no real benefit in receiving a third dose before then.

“When you get a vaccine ahead of when it’s due, it doesn’t add anything to what you’re doing,” Medina said. “A third dose actually basically just reminds your immune system that, ‘Hey, you know this. You remember this. You can actually keep making this.’”

Booster shots have not yet been authorized for those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but a decision could be coming soon, Medina said.
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