20210825-LOC-Vaccine Filer

Vaccine supplies top a table at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Alumni Field in Keene in June.

In recent weeks, federal health officials have authorized a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are immunocompromised, aimed at boosting people’s immune response to the virus, as cases continue to surge due to the highly contagious delta variant.

Here’s a rundown of who can receive a booster shot, what’s in it and where, locally, to get it:

Who can now get a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?

On Aug. 12, the Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency-use authorizations for the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to allow some people with compromised immune systems to get a third shot, as long as their initial doses were by Moderna or Pfizer.

Those who qualify include people receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood; people with advanced or untreated HIV; and those who are taking immunosuppressant drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recommends the additional dose be administered at least four weeks after the person’s second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

Why do people who are immunocompromised need a third dose?

People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are more at risk of developing a serious, prolonged illness, the CDC says.

Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease expert at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, added that while the vaccines continue to be successful in preventing serious illness and hospitalizations, some people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised might not develop a strong enough response despite the two doses, leaving them vulnerable. But an additional dose might boost their antibody titers, granting them added protection.

If I’m immunocompromised and got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can I get another dose?

You will likely need another dose, but it’s not available at this time, according to the CDC. The Johnson & Johnson shot is a viral vector vaccine, while the Pfizer and Moderna shots are mRNA-based, and it’s currently unknown if it’s safe to combine the two varieties. However, the CDC says that more data are expected in coming weeks.

Is the third dose the same vaccine formula we already received or does it differ? Will the doses that people who are immunocompromised receive differ than what others may get in the future?

The third dose for immunocompromised people is the same Moderna or Pfizer vaccine that people already received, according to Khole.

Other populations — if approved for a third dose — will also likely receive the same vaccines, Khole said, though he noted that in the future the boosters might be tweaked to better protect against COVID-19 variants, such as delta.

Where can an immunocompromised person get a third dose?

There are more than 500 locations across New Hampshire where people can get a third dose, including pharmacies and hospitals, according to Laura Montenegro, spokeswoman for the state health department.

Locally, Cheshire Medical patients can either speak to their primary-care or specialty provider or leave a message at 354-6943 to receive a call back for an appointment, spokeswoman Heather Atwell said.

Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough is still working on its plans to distribute the third dose, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Daniel Perli. Once that is determined, he said the hospital will reach out to patients to share those details.

In the meantime, Perli said patients interested in a booster should contact another health care provider, such as a local pharmacy.

The CDC recommends people consult their health care provider on whether a third shot is needed. However, patients who plan to get their booster dose at a pharmacy can self-attest that they are immunocompromised, Montenegro said.

As with the initial shots, appointments for a third can be made at vaccines.nh.gov, by calling the state’s hotline at 2-1-1 or by directly contacting your primary-care provider or pharmacy.

When will the third dose be available locally?

New Hampshire health care providers began administering the boosters upon the FDA’s authorization on Aug. 12, according to Montenegro.

When can other people get a third dose? Will everyone need one?

Federal health officials announced last week that people nationwide can start receiving a booster shot Sept. 20, assuming the FDA and CDC sign off on the doses’ safety and effectiveness by that point.

People would be eligible for the third dose starting eight months after they received their second one.

Khole added that even though the latest data from the CDC show the vaccine’s protection starting to wane after about six months, it is still effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

But even if the country has third doses to give to everyone, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should, according to Khole.

“The vaccines are doing what they’re supposed to do, so balancing that against, sure, we have the vaccine so let’s give everyone a third dose, but then there’s vaccine equity, where other countries in the world don’t even have enough to give their population full doses,” he said. “ ... Do we be proactive to the extent that we may be adding protection that may not be needed for everyone? ... It’s a complex decision.”

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccines or anything else related to the viral disease can be answered at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling the state’s hotline at 2-1-1.

This article has been changed to accurately reflect a point by Dr. Aalok Khole.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.