Colorado is planning to get a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all nursing home residents in the state over the next three weeks, Governor Jared Polis announced Tuesday — though federal health officials haven’t given the green light yet.
The governor also urged older Coloradans to get booster shots, claiming they have an immune system condition that would qualify them for a third shot under current rules.
On Friday, a panel of vaccine experts advised the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize a third dose of Pfizer vaccine for people who are 65 years of age or older, at high risk of serious disease, or work in settings where they are more likely to be infected.
The FDA has yet to issue that authorization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to decide whether to recommend a booster for older people. A decision could come by the end of this week.
For now, only people who have compromised immune systems are eligible for the booster, and who have received the Pfizer or Moderna shot. The FDA is expected to consider expanding on who can have a third Moderna shot and whether a second Johnson & Johnson shot makes sense. There is little data on whether mixing shots are safe and effective, so it is recommended that you stick with the brand you get first.
Polis said the state intends to move forward with the booster, and can do so without curtailing its efforts to get the first and second doses into arms. He said all nursing home residents received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months before they were eligible for the third shot.
“We now have enough doses to proceed with our booster vaccination programme,” he said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
In August, the CDC recommended a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for people who have a specific condition that limits the ability of their immune systems to respond to vaccinations.
At this point, the only Coloradans who are eligible are:
- Have had an organ transplant at any time, or had a recent stem cell transplant
- had recently been treated for cancer
- were born with a compromised immune system
- have uncontrolled HIV
- being treated with high doses of immune-suppressing drugs
- have another condition that can affect the immune system, such as chronic kidney disease
Vaccine providers are not allowed to ask for proof that patients have qualifying status, however – patients only need to fill out a form and check a box saying they do.
Polis urged older Coloradans to interpret the idea of a “weakened immune system” far more liberally than the CDC, arguing that anyone in their 70s could in good conscience say that their body’s defenses were the same. Not all they can be.
“By the nature of this virus, people age 70 and older have a weakened immune system,” he said.
Polis also said he knew some people who had received booster shots because they wanted extra protection before travel, although the idea of giving booster shots to healthy people remains controversial. Standard doses remain highly effective in preventing serious illness and death in young and middle-aged people with healthy immune systems.
Proponents of increasing eligibility for boosters argue that it is better to overtake those with reduced immunity, and that it also has value in preventing the spread of the virus to people with mild infections. Opponents say booster shots will do little to ease the strain on hospitals, as the most severe disease is in uninsured people, and if the benefits are small enough, a small risk of side effects may outweigh them.
By the end of August, those who were fully vaccinated were 7.9 times less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in Colorado than those who did not complete their vaccine sequence, Dr. Rachel Hurley said. She said there is a strong correlation between counties’ vaccination rates and how full their hospitals are.
Statewide, cases and hospitalizations have leveled off over the past week, although it is unclear whether this will continue as the weather is cooler and activities move indoors, Herlihy said.
“The numbers want to go up or down. We rarely stay on a plateau for very long,” she said.