Doctors Say Pfizer Booster Rollout Is Met With Enthusiasm

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Key Takeaways

  • Pfizer booster rollout for seniors and high risk groups began this fall.
  • So far, providers say patients seem less hesitant in getting their boosters than the initial shots.
  • Continuing to disperse multi-language and accessible education on the importance of vaccines is essential in bridging the gap in vaccine disparities, experts say.

Booster rollout for seniors and high risk groups began this fall. For some healthcare centers, it has already consumed a substantial portion of time and resources. But as more of the nation’s most vulnerable receive their extra shot, the hope is that numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and potential deaths will decline.

For now, doctors say the good news is that boosters appear to be met with more enthusiasm than hesitancy, and they stress the importance of getting fully vaccinated to the extent eligible.

Positive attitudes towards boosters may be partially due to recipient bias, says Shruti Gohil, MD, associate medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Health.

“For healthcare workers, we’re a really biased population,” Gohil tells Verywell. “We know firsthand the harms of COVID itself.”

This appears true for patients too, Gohil adds. “The kind of hesitancy that we may have seen for people who were previously unvaccinated is not there for the boosters,” she says. “I think mainly because these are people who have already successfully had the vaccine, and nothing happened to them, and they already know that they’re safe.”

A recent Verywell survey found that 82% of vaccinated Americans would be willing to receive a booster shot if it was authorized.

Charles Miramonti, MD, senior medical director of community health at Oak Street Health, a center that serves people on Medicare, tells Verywell that while most of his patients appear receptive to boosters, hesitancy has not altogether disappeared.

Oak Street utilized things like texting and voice messaging to help inform and educate patients about vaccines and boosters prior to their approval, which Miramonti credits for a smooth rollout so far.

Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, says that the Delta variant has highlighted the need for protection and encouraged more people to get boosters.

“We had the Delta variant that killed so many people, fast, and hospitalized a lot of people that did not get vaccinated,” Rios tells Verywell. “I think others realized that the vaccine works.”

Access Barrier Remains for Booster Vaccines

“The vaccine has barriers to access, no matter if it's a booster or not,” Rios says, noting that Latinos, African Americans, people in rural areas, and low-income communities all face barriers like time constraints, location, and language.

Disseminating proper education about vaccines in Spanish and other non-English languages is essential in reaching marginalized communities to bridge these gaps, she adds.

“Hispanics need better information, and less misinformation, especially coming from Spanish-language websites, social media, and media,” Rios says.

The lack of accurate information in Spanish has led to many people in the Hispanic/Latinx community being unaware about the importance of vaccines and the logistics around going to a healthcare center to receive them, she adds. People may not know that the shots are free, or they may be undocumented and worried that setting up an appointment could get them in trouble with the government. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that vaccines are free and available to everyone living in the U.S., regardless of insurance or immigration status. This message has not been largely dispersed to people in her community, Rios says.

The National Hispanic Medical Association has a campaign called #VaccinateForAll, where they educate people in the Hispanic/Latinx community about the importance of vaccinations and support community vaccination efforts.

What About Non-Pfizer Vaccine Recipients?

When the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters for seniors and high risk groups in September, some experts expressed concern about the Pfizer-only authorization, saying that it could be a disservice to people who had initially received either the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine.

CDC panelist Sarah Long, MD, said that it would be “very very difficult to have a little less than half of the population who are eligible to be able to receive [a booster].”

To stay in line with CDC guidelines, Oak Street Health alerts eligible patients about boosters, rather than having patients come to the center, Miramonti says.

So far, he hasn’t noticed any stretch of an “outcry” from Moderna patients looking for a third shot.

Miramonti adds that approval of other boosters could help speed up rollout, as Pfizer’s specialized storage requirements make it logistically difficult to distribute.

“Sometimes the Pfizer stuff can be very difficult to handle logistically,” he says. “Moderna was much easier to deploy, so Pfizer has been a little bit more of a challenge and we've had to work around that.”

Oak Street used Moderna shots in its initial vaccine rollout for healthcare workers. Many other providers also used hyper-local supplies that were not always Pfizer, he adds.

UCI Health received Pfizer vaccines in its initial batch, so many of its patients and workers meet the booster requirements, Gohil says. If high-risk patients who did not receive Pfizer request booster shots, physicians may need to assess the situation on a case-by-case basis, she adds.

“Currently, it is not clinical practice to mix and match [different vaccines], so we have to weigh those risks,” Gohil says. “There is a little bit more thinking that has to go into the highest risk category for those who have not gotten Pfizer.”

“If we have a patient who is really immunocompromised and we're worried that they need to have some type of booster, we will make case by case [evaluations],” she adds.

Cancer patients who have had major procedures like white blood cell transplants could be among those who should be evaluated, she says. UCI will otherwise prioritize agency guidance, she adds.

“If people are well enough and they happen to have had Moderna or J&J. What we’re doing is we’re just waiting eagerly, we’re letting them know [to] please continue all your mechanisms like masking, and distancing, and all the rest until we can get the appropriate clearance.”

When Will We Know About Moderna or Johnson & Johnson Boosters?

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel will meet this week to discuss the potential for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines respectively. The panel issues recommendations, not approvals, but the FDA could soon recommend another booster based on the panel’s vote.

As the committees continue to review research and make decisions, Rios says she has confidence in the process, and that the general public should trust it as well. People can protect themselves so long as they get the vaccine series, or booster, that they are currently eligible, she adds.

“For us, the priority is to get people vaccinated,” Rios says. “If you have to get a first, or second, or if you have to get a booster, get the booster.”

What This Means For You

Doctors recommend that people continue to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to the extent that they are eligible. As of now, people who are 65+ or in high risk groups and have received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible for a booster shot. Vaccines are free and available to all people in the United States, regardless of insurance or immigration status.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.