COVID vaccine

Suburban Cook County Says No Adults Will Be Denied COVID-19 Booster Shots

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Cook County health officials said Monday that all adults would be eligible for COVID-19 booster shots as the county prepares to step up its fight against the global pandemic, but later adjusted those claims to indicate that "no one seeking a booster will be turned away from a vaccination site."

After originally stating that all adults could receive a booster shot, despite federal guidelines recommending otherwise, the Cook County Department of Public Health adjusted its guidance to state that the following groups are eligible for booster shots: 

  • residents who are 65 years and older
  • residents who are 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions
  • residents 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings at least 6 months after completing the primary series

"It is important to note that no one seeking a booster will be turned away from a vaccination site," the health department said in its updated guidance.

"Knowing that vaccines are the only way out of the pandemic, and knowing that booster doses strengthen our ability to fight COVID-19, we wholeheartedly encourage people get a booster shot as soon as they can," Rachel Rubin, co-lead and senior medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. "We must stop the transmission of the virus."

About 194 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Under today's policies, authorities already estimated about 2 of every 3 vaccinated adults could qualify for a booster within the next few months. Many who don't meet the criteria often score an extra shot because many vaccine providers don't check qualifications.

Cook County's updated announcement mirrors comments from Chicago's top doctor.

Last week, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago residents over the age of 18 won't be turned away from getting COVID-19 vaccine booster shots as health officials report "plenty of availability."

"You're not gonna get turned away from getting a booster if you're over the age of 18," Arwady said in a Facebook Live event. "We have plenty of availability here."

Arwady noted that those who want to get a third vaccine shot must be six months out from the second dose of their Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. For those who initially received Johnson & Johnson, the wait period is two months.

"We strongly, strongly recommend that anyone over the age of 65 get a booster," Arwady said. "We strongly recommend that anyone over the age of 50 with an underlying condition of any kind, get a booster."

"For people who do not have underlying conditions or who are younger than that, boosters are available and recommended for anybody over the age of 18 with any underlying condition or who is working or living or being in a potentially higher-risk setting," she added.

Three U.S. states currently allow coronavirus booster shots for all adults even though federal health officials recommend limiting doses to those considered most at risk. Officials in Colorado, California and New Mexico said they have ample supplies of vaccines to provide initial vaccinations and boosters to all who want them.

In California, state Public Health Officer Tomás Aragón sent a letter to local health officials and providers saying they should “allow patients to self-determine their risk of exposure."

“Do not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster” if they are age 18 and up and it has been six months since they had their second Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two months since their single Johnson & Johnson shot, he wrote.

President Joe Biden’s administration had sought approval for boosters for all adults, but U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers in September decided it isn’t clear that young healthy people need another dose. They instead recommended boosters only for those over 65 and younger people with certain underlying health conditions or whose jobs are high risk for the virus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said the Biden administration continues to advise health leaders across the country “to abide by public health guidelines coming from the federal government.”

While all three vaccines used in the U.S. continue to offer strong protection against severe COVID-19 illness and death, the shots’ effectiveness against milder infection can wane over time.

The current rules: People who initially received Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations are eligible for a booster six months later if they’re 65 or older, or are at high risk of COVID-19 because of health problems or their job or living conditions. Because the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine hasn’t proven as effective as its two-dose competitors, any J&J recipient can get a booster at least two months later.

Also, anyone eligible for a booster doesn’t have to stick with their initial vaccination type and can get a different company’s vaccine, what’s called mixing and matching.

Pfizer asked U.S. regulators last week to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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