In-Depth: Vaccine providers hope expanded booster guidelines boost demand

Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 21:27:05-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Local vaccine providers announced plans to begin offering booster shots to all adults starting this weekend following the expanded authorization from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CVS said it would begin offering boosters Saturday at nearly 10,000 locations across the country to recipients of any authorized vaccine. The pharmacy giant encouraged people to schedule an appointment in advance.

Individuals who got Moderna and Pfizer qualify for a booster six months after their initial regime. People who got Johnson and Johnson should get a booster after two months.

Kaiser Permanente said it would expand appointment slots at its 11 San Diego locations. Prior to the new guidelines, a spokeswoman said Kaiser was vaccinating about 2,000 adults and 600 kids per day at San Diego locations. Both members and non-members can book appointments.

Health officials are hoping the expanded authorization leads to a spike in demand for boosters, which have rolled out slower than some experts expected. Across the country, just 17.8 percent of vaccinated adults have gotten a booster so far.

MORE: In-Depth: Just 39% of San Diego seniors have gotten COVID-19 boosters so far

In San Diego County, providers have more than 140,000 doses on hand, waiting for arms to put them in, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Scripps Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ghazala Sharieff said she hoped the public would heed the call to get boosters because her health system had doses at risk of going to waste.

"We have about 10,000 doses between Moderna and Pfizer that we need to use by the end of December or they expire," she said. "We have been trying very hard to get people their boosters."

Scripps Health will hold its final large-scale vaccine clinics at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on November 29 and 30. The events are open to Scripps patients and employees only, not the general public. Dr. Sharieff said Scripps could add additional dates if necessary.

Health experts blame the slow rollout on public confusion over the initial booster guidelines.

A survey last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found a whopping 40 percent of vaccinated adults were unsure if they were eligible for a booster.

"People were confused," said Dr. Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers of San Diego.

He said the more straightforward guidelines should significantly boost demand. FHCSD will begin offering boosters to all adults immediately, including at high-capacity locations in Chollas View, Chula Vista, Logan Heights, El Cajon, and Spring Valley. Individuals should book an appointment to ensure the availability of their preferred vaccine, he said.

Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco, said there is clear evidence of waning vaccine immunity over time -- and not just in older adults.

In adults aged 20 to 44 who got Moderna, vaccine effectiveness dropped to 74 percent after 200 days, according to the CDC.

Adults of that age group who got Pfizer saw their vaccine effectiveness drop to 65 percent after 200 days.

"Waning immunity is starting to catch up," Rutherford said. "What the models would suggest is that you have to get enough boosters to outpace waning immunity. And if we don't do that, we're going to have a big winter surge."

You don't have to look far to find places experiencing COVID-19 surges already.

"Fresno, Tulare County, Kings County, Kern County -- they're getting hammered," he said. "It's kind of like it was in Los Angeles in January: patients in the halls on gurneys."

Advisers to the CDC said Americans 50 and older who got Pfizer or Moderna "should" get a booster six months after their second dose. Americans 18 and older who got J &J "should" get a booster after two months.

But the official recommendation is slightly softer for younger adults. The CDC panel said individuals 18 and older who got Pfizer or Moderna "may" get a booster if they wish.

"Do young, healthy people need a booster?" I asked Dr. Sharieff.

"I think it's a great idea to get a booster, no matter what age you are. No matter what underlying medical conditions you have," she replied.

About one in 10 COVID patients hospitalized at Scripps Health over the past few months have been vaccinated. But in the past week, Scripps has encountered a relatively high number of breakthrough cases at outpatient clinics: 21 percent of those testing positive had been vaccinated.

With the holidays coming up, Dr. Sharieff said now is the time to boost protection.