U.S. pharmacies are starting to offer a variety of COVID-19 booster shots days after U.S. health officials approved the extra dose for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Walgreens, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Rite Aid announced they’ll have the Pfizer, Moderna or J&J COVID-19 booster vaccines for eligible patients. CVS will carry Pfizer and Moderna’s booster shot.
"As new guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccines continues to emerge, our communities are relying on pharmacists for information, support and guidance more than ever," Rina Shah, Walgreen’s group vice president pharmacy operations and services, said in a news release.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration signed off on booster shots for eligible Americans.
There still are restrictions on who qualifies and when for a booster. Starting six months past their last Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, people are urged to get a booster if they’re 65 or older, nursing home residents, or at least 50 and at increased risk of severe disease because of health problems. Boosters also were allowed, but not urged, for adults of any age at increased risk of infection because of health problems or their jobs or living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.
Moderna’s booster will come at half the dose of the original two shots.
As for recipients of the single-shot J&J vaccine, a COVID-19 booster is recommended for everyone at least two months after their vaccination. That’s because the J&J vaccine hasn’t proved as protective as the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer options.
The FDA rulings differ because the vaccines are made differently, with different dosing schedules — and the J&J vaccine has consistently shown a lower level of effectiveness than either of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
FDA regulators said they would move quickly to expand boosters to lower age groups, such as people in their 40s and 50s, if warranted.
The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while about 15 million have received the J&J vaccine.
U.S. regulators last week also said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.
The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow "mixing and matching" of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.
According to the CDC, 67.2% of Americans 12 years and older are fully vaccinated.
On Oct. 1, the U.S. reached its latest heartbreaking pandemic milestone, eclipsing 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 just as the surge from the delta variant started to slow down and give overwhelmed hospitals some relief.
Nationwide, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen to somewhere around 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September.
The easing of the summer surge has been attributed to more people wearing masks and getting vaccinated. The decrease in case numbers could also be due to the virus having burned through susceptible people and running out of fuel in some places.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.