‘I know there’s a lot of confusion’: Health officials break down booster news

Vaccinators get ready for shot spike with upcoming approvals for boosters, children 5+

MADISON, Wis. – Vaccinators are preparing for another push in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Alliant Energy Center’s Arena has a lot of space to expand, already open for mostly booster shots this week at its new temporary clinic.

A Public Health Madison Dane County spokesperson said the space gives them room to grow, as they monitor news on vaccine approvals for both children 5 and up and for booster shots.

“There’s a lot of movement, but we’re kind of in a hurry up and wait stage now,” said Morgan Finke, PHMDC communications director.

Finke pointed to a graphic recently shared on social media breaking down the booster availability based on type of COVID-19 vaccine.

“I know there’s a lot of confusion around the booster now,” she said.

Currently, Pfizer is available as a booster shot for high-risk groups, including adults with underlying medical conditions, adults who work in a high risk setting and those 65 and older.

Moderna’s vaccine is only available as an additional shot for those who fall under a “very small and specific group of severely immunocompromised people,” according to PHMDC’s website. It will likely be federally approved for the same high-risk groups approved to get a Pfizer booster in the next one to two weeks.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will likely be approved as a booster, as well, but UW Health’s Dr. Jeff Pothof said that may look a little different.

“This vaccine will likely be approved for anyone who got it,” Pothof said.

The Food and Drug Administration’s advisory group for vaccines recently said that those who get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get a booster two months later.

“They will be overdue for a booster shot and they can certainly get it as soon as possible,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services at SSM Health.

For people who got the Johnson & Johnson shot initially, recent data suggests a booster of Pfizer or Moderna may be more effective than another shot of Johnson & Johnson.

Pothof said mixing and matching vaccines is likely on the horizon now that there’s data to show it’s safe and effective, when that wasn’t recommended when the vaccines rolled out.

“I think this will continue to play out, this idea that as we learn, we learn more, and then we communicate that to the public. What is the best practice?” Pothof said. “The thing we know for sure today which may not be the same thing as what we knew a year ago.”

He stressed that those who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines shouldn’t worry that they’re not well-protected.

“For the most part, even when we talk about the boosters, we almost start to put in our minds the idea that the original vaccine must not be working very good anymore,” Pothof said. “That’s not the case at all.”

‘Preparing on both fronts’: More booster shots and vaccines for children

Beyond booster shots, vaccinators such as SSM Health are getting ready for an influx of vaccine appointments following Pfizer’s likely approval for children ages 5 to 11.

“We’re now preparing on both fronts,” Kharbat said.

SSM Health is making room in its calendar for pediatric appointments so they can open scheduling as soon as they get the go-ahead. They suggest parents make sure they have access to their child’s MyChart account to make scheduling easier when it opens.

The health system is also working with school districts on how best to make the shots available, both to teachers who need boosters and children who will become eligible.

“The interest is immense,” Kharbat said. “They think it could be 70 or 80% of kids in this age group lining up to get this vaccine.”

“It really is a pretty easy decision,” Pothof said. “Getting your 5- to 11-year-old vaccinated offers a tremendous peace of mind.”

Children and families will have options, including at the Alliant Energy Center’s temporary distribution site, which Finke said has the ability to increase daily vaccine distribution about fourfold.

“That gives us a lot of room to grow,” she said.

Vaccine appointments at the Alliant Energy Center are recommended and can be made online here.