East Alabama Apothecary pharmacist talks booster shots

Published 10:00 am Friday, January 7, 2022

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With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, many are wondering if their initial vaccines will protect them or if they should get booster shots. Pharmacist Kim Clemmons of East Alabama Apothecary said that booster shots are now recommended for ages 12 and older. She emphasized that everyone should ask their doctor or pharmacist which vaccine is right for them.

“Getting a booster vaccine adds additional protection needed to help the body fight COVID,” she said. “The protection offered by the original vaccine series (Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson) wanes over time. How quickly this happens depends on several factors: other health issues, medications, age.”

Clemmons said that while a booster vaccine may not prevent someone from getting COVID-19, it will help keep symptoms less severe for most patients. She said a booster dose is recommended five months after getting the second Pfizer vaccine, six months after getting the second Moderna vaccine and two months after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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Certain people need booster shots more than others. Clemmons said patients 65 and older are more likely to see waning efficacy of the original vaccine series.

“As we age, our immune systems do not function as they did when we were in our 20s,” she said. “This population has a harder time fighting infections.”

Clemmons said patients with underlying medical conditions that would compromise their immune systems should strongly consider the booster vaccine. Examples of such conditions include but are not limited to cancer, diabetes, lung diseases such as COPD or asthma (or being or having been a smoker), heart conditions such of heart failure, coronary artery disease or high blood pressure, pregnancy and obesity.

Regardless of which COVID vaccine someone initially had, Clemmons said they could receive any of the three vaccines as a booster. However, she said Pfizer or Moderna are preferred over Johnson & Johnson because they offer better protection. 

“As with other vaccines, peak effectiveness occurs around two weeks following the booster injection,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons said the Omicron variant seems to be more contagious than other variants so far.

On Tuesday, East Alabama Health shared a COVID-19 update.

“After a slight dip over the weekend, COVID-19 hospitalizations pushed up to 38 this morning with three of the patients being ventilated,” it said. “The last time COVID hospitalizations were this high was Sept. 30, 2020, but at that time, 14 of the patients were ventilated.”

Atkinson said in the update that the Omicron variant seems to be milder than other variants, as indicated by the lower use of ventilators and the fact that only six of the 38 patients were in the ICU.

“Another pattern that seems to be developing is the older population being impacted more,” Atkinson said. “Of the 38 patients today, 23 are age 60 or older and 10 of them are vaccinated. With that in mind, we’re encouraging eligible senior adults, and everyone else who is eligible, to receive a booster shot as soon as possible.”

Atkinson said East Alabama Health especially encourages senior adults who are unvaccinated to receive their initial doses immediately.

“Last summer, as the Delta variant was spreading quickly, the Pediatric Clinic in Opelika saw positivity rates among their young patients rise to 20.4 percent as their volumes surpassed 1,300 visits a week,” the update said. “Last week, their volumes were lower, but their positivity rate was higher. For the week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, they tested 562 children, and 205 were positive for COVID-19 — a positivity rate of 36.48 percent.”

The update said that positivity rates among other age groups are also high.

“According to the ADPH website, Alabama’s moving 7-day percentage of positivity in tests is 38.5 percent,” the update said. “Locally, ADPH reports that Lee County is at 38.4 percent, Chambers County is at 40.8 percent, Macon County is at 34.2 percent and Russell County is at 45.2 percent.”

As part of a collaborative effort between the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Lee County Emergency Management Agency and East Alabama Health, COVID-19 testing will be offered Saturday, Sunday, next Tuesday and next Wednesday. Appointments are taken a day in advance and can be made by calling (334) 528-4968.