Monroe County Health Department Director Teresa Harrill spoke recently about the talk around COVID-19 booster shots.

“I think the science, the research and the studies have shown that it is needed, especially with the third dose for immunocompromised people,” Harrill said. “Those are people that have health issues, receiving cancer treatments, organ transplants, or stem cell transplants and several other health issues, so I think this is much needed.”

Though immunocompromised people are the target audience for the third vaccine, Harrill recommended everyone receive a booster when eligible.

“Once it becomes available and we are looking at Sept. 20 for when it will be open for the public,” Harrill noted. “Based on what we have been hearing and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) we have heard different months. People who have received Pfizer and Moderna may need to receive a third dose after eight months.”

The booster will only be available to individuals who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

“As for right now we haven’t heard anything about boosters for individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson,” she noted. “That has not been approved yet, but it would be a second dose for that particular vaccine.”

The Monroe County Health Department currently only has the Pfizer vaccine and will only be able to distribute third doses of it.

“The one reason the department of health and both of my health departments have Pfizer is because once it was approved for children ages 12 and up that became the only vaccine that we were receiving at that point,” she said. “We are confident that the vaccine is working and that is obvious by the hospitalization rates of those that are unvaccinated, in ICU and on ventilators and dying, unfortunately. I look every day from the numbers of UT, Blount and others and there are just a lot of people who are unvaccinated that are really sick.”

To dispel any confusion, the booster dose and the third dose of the vaccine are the same thing, rather than being separate products, she said.

“Third dose is meant to improve the response in immunocompromised patients who likely didn’t have a strong immune response to the first two doses,” Harrill stated. “Booster is given to individuals whose immunity has likely waned after the first two doses, however it is still a third dose regardless.”

People interested in receiving a third dose due to being immunocompromised can do so at the health department without needing to make an appointment.

“We will make sure that the person is fully vaccinated and that it has been at least two weeks since their second dose before we give someone the third dose, but no appointments are necessary,” she said. “People definitely need to bring their vaccination cards, however we can look it up if they do not have them. We are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and we usually do vaccines between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.”

Aside from the third dose, Harrill encouraged those who haven’t received a vaccination to get vaccinated.

“We haven’t seen people hospitalized who have been vaccinated,” Harrill expressed. “This … we are having from the Delta variant is just really brutal and people need to be aware that this virus is much more contagious and it is affecting children more. Even though people who have been vaccinated have been getting the virus they haven’t been getting as sick or hospitalized and if they are getting hospitalized they are not going on a vent or dying, so we know that the vaccines are helping.”

Harrill also expressed her thoughts on continuing certain practices from last year.

“Using masks will help,” she noted. “People are continuing to gather places and it seems that people are not taking the precautions they did last year and that is what helped us through. Until we get through this I think everybody needs to go back to the basics of masks, washing hands and social distancing.”

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