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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Biden Administration announced Aug. 18 a plan to provide COVID-19 booster shots to Americans starting the week of Sept. 20.

Pending final Food and Drug Administration evaluation and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, booster shots would be administered eight months after an individual received their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

“The COVID-19 vaccines that are authorized in the United States have been remarkably effective, even against the widespread Delta variant. But we know that even highly effective vaccines become less effective over time,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at a press conference. “Our goal has been to determine when that time might come for the COVID-19 vaccines so we can make a plan to take proactive steps to extend and enhance the protection the vaccines are giving us.”

AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said the agency is planning internally and with other vaccine providers to determine how this will be implemented in the community.

“We want to ensure we are coordinating efforts across our community as best we can,” Bracey said. “We are not authorized to administer booster doses until Sept. 20 and this depends on recommendation from the FDA and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.”

Right now, AppHealthCare and other vaccine providers are able to administer a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna for individuals who are moderately to severely immunocompromised as recommended by the CDC. Those shots are intended for people who have a moderately or severely compromised immune system such as individuals who are undergoing cancer treatment, have had an organ transplant, are actively taking medications that suppress their immune system, have advanced or untreated HIV infection, or have another moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency condition.

AppHealthCare is waiting on additional information on booster shots related to the Johnson and Johnson one-shot vaccine. Bracey said the agency does anticipate a booster dose will likely be recommended for individuals who received the J and J vaccine.

“We plan to communicate additional information prior to Sept. 20, as we receive additional information from the FDA and CDC,” Bracey said. “We do know that there should be sufficient supply of vaccine and vaccine providers who will be offering vaccines to meet this need.”

When a booster shot is administered, it will be documented in the vaccine administration system as previous doses have been documented. For community-wide metrics, AppHealthCare is working to determine how best to report that data locally and will likely include this data in its COVID-19 Situation Updates to go along with already reported vaccine data.

In its three county district, AppHealthCare is reporting 142 breakthrough cases — meaning a person who is fully vaccinated becomes infected with COVID-19 — as of Aug. 19.

“We encourage people to look at the vaccine data from reliable sources,” Bracey said. “The purpose of the vaccines are to help prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death and they are doing that. It remains true that the majority of cases of severe illness, hospitalization and death are among those who are unvaccinated. There are many vaccines that reduce in protection over time, which means we have to regularly get the vaccines in order to maintain enough protection to help fight the virus.”

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System reported on Aug. 18 that the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was at 21 with 80 percent of those unvaccinated. Non-vaccinated patients who are hospitalized exhibit greater symptom severity, ARHS stated.

“In our COVID-19 response efforts, it is important we try to stay ahead of the virus as much as possible and based on data, we know a booster dose will help maximize protection and reduce the overall impact in our community,” Bracey said. “As we continue to plan and prepare for the administration of booster doses, we will communicate the next steps of how individuals can get their booster dose. We encourage people to be patient as we continue to plan and refine processes in order to have an organized response effort.”

A full list of COVID-19 vaccine providers in Ashe and Watauga counties can be found at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-vaccinations/.

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