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NH News

UPDATED: For Some Immunocompromised Granite Staters, Third Shots Are Here

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Gabriela Lozada / NHPR
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Although not available for those who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the CDC recently approved third shots for certain immunocompromised people.

Editor's note, Wednesday Aug. 18 3:34 p.m.: We have updated this story to more accurately reflect the distinction between boosters and third shots, and new federal plans for booster shots.

For the past week, 54-year-old Mindy Gibson of Rochester has felt stuck in a catch-22.

Gibson has an auto-immune disease and long-term pain, from a leg injury and infection.

Her doctor just recommended a new medication that might help her, but it would further compromise her immune system. Gibson weighed mitigating her pain against the risk of contracting and falling ill from COVID-19. She decided to wait to start the medication, but she won’t wait to get a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As soon as the CDC approved third shots for certain immunocompromised people Friday, Gibson called her doctor. Although the shot won’t solve her problem, she’s grateful for any bump in immunity, with the highly-contagious delta variant becoming an increased share of cases in New Hampshire.

Kate Beanlands of Allenstown has also been talking to her doctor about getting a third dose. While it's unclear exactly how much more immunity it will give her as an immunocompromised person, she thinks more protection is better.

Health officials estimate that around 3 percent of the country’s population is now eligible for a third shot of the vaccine. The new authorization does not apply to people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because there is not enough data to support additional doses yet.

While the CDC recommends people consult their health care provider on whether a third shot is the right decision, a prescription or doctor's note is not required to access the additional dose.

The CDC recommends the third dose for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, including people who have been receiving active cancer treatment or who are taking immunosuppressant drugs.

The CDC says this additional dose is intended to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series. A third dose is not the same as a booster dose. A booster shot is given to people when the immune response to the initial vaccine series is likely to have waned over time.

While federal health officials are planning to start administering booster shots to the general population in late September, right now, the CDC does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population. The CDC’s independent advisory committee will make further recommendations on the use of boosters for the public.

Many N.H. locations are offering a third shot to immunocompromised residents, including pharmacies and hospitals.

Kris van Bergen, director of workforce development and public health programs at the North Country Health Consortium says “Boosters are an important part of our messaging right now. The booster topic is a hot topic. What has been approved right now is a third dose for people who are immunocompromised."

Part of their messaging right now, van Bergen says, is dispelling confusion around boosters and helping people understand that while a booster for the general population is coming, it’s not ready yet. Booster shots have still not been approved for the general public, even if they're on the way.

A spokesperson for the state says the state can connect residents with their regional public health network, home care agency or visiting nurses association to schedule an at-home vaccination.

New Hampshire’s COVID-19 support line can be reached by calling 2-1-1 and choosing prompt 3.