The statewide online scheduling tool for COVID-19 vaccines was updated this week to allow people to register for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Washoe County Health District (WCHD) officials said Wednesday that before the software update was made, extra steps had to be taken to verify whether shots given were for a third dose or a booster.
“The most important thing is getting the Pfizer booster to everyone who wants them in the community,” said WCHD spokesperson Scott Oxarart.
So far more than 2,700 COVID-19 vaccines have been given as either the booster or third dose at WCHD’s vaccination sites and home visits.
The difference between the third dose and the booster has been confusing some residents, according to District Health Officer Kevin Dick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a third dose, given at least 28 days after the second, for people who are immunocompromised. “This additional dose is intended to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series,” the guidance states. Those eligible for a third dose may have initially received either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine for their first two doses.
The booster dose, Dick said, is only available for those who received the Pfizer vaccine for their first two doses, and their second shot was at least six months ago. It’s recommended primarily for people over 65 years of age, or people over 50 who have an underlying health condition.
Individuals 18 and older who have an underlying health condition or exposure through their workplace are also eligible for the booster dose if they received both initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Dick said the health district’s call center has also fielded a lot of calls about boosters for the Moderna and Janssen vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee is meeting today and Friday to consider approval of a booster for those vaccines, and the CDC will conduct a review Oct. 20-21.
“If that is authorized, then the direction we are receiving from the state is we can immediately begin to administer those booster doses,” Dick said.
He added that the FDA will also review use of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 on Oct. 26. If approved, WCHD will begin giving the COVID-19 vaccine to children in that age group right away.
Risk meter drops from very high to high
The county’s COVID-19 risk meter is coming down, Dick said, as well as the number of new cases reported.
The 7-day average for Washoe County is at 115 new cases per day, down from more than 300 cases per day in September.
Hospitalizations are also down too, with just 87 patients hospitalized in Washoe County.
Dick warned however, as he has in the past, that now is not the time to get lax with masking, social distancing and other precautions.
“While it’s encouraging that we have fewer COVID patients, our hospital system does still remain strained as we are continuing to have other healthcare needs and take care of patients that may have deferred some of their medical care,” he said.
With Nevada Day, Halloween, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and flu season on the horizon, he urged the community to remain vigilant to avoid another spike in cases.
Governor promotes flu shots
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday rolled up his sleeve for an annual flu vaccination, which he received with the media in tow.
“It’s officially flu season and right now is the time to get vaccinated against flu,” the governor said. “Get your vaccine before the risk of exposure is high and there are cases of flu in your workplace, at your school, or in your friend group.”
CDC officials said the severity of flu season can be hard to predict and can vary based on location. Last year was a particularly mild year for flu, which health officials credit to COVID-19 mitigation measures and an increase in vaccination against the flu.
This year may be different.
“Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season,” the CDC noted.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for anyone over 6 months of age with few exceptions.
The flu vaccine can be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with 20 years’ experience working in communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. In her free time, she is a volunteer backpacking guide along the Tahoe Rim Trail, an avid home cook and baker, cyclist, wife and stepmom.