PATTY NIEBERG, Associated Press / Report for America
When the Delta variant began to spread, Gina Welch decided not to take any chances: she got a third booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by going to a clinic and telling them it was their first vaccination.
The U.S. government has not approved a booster vaccination against the virus and says it still has no evidence that it is necessary. But Welch and an untold number of other Americans managed to get them by taking advantage of the country’s vaccine surplus and not tracking those who were fully vaccinated.
Welch, a Maine graduate student studying chemical engineering, said she was keeping an eye on scientific studies on COVID-19 and is following several virologists and epidemiologists on social media who have advocated boosters.
“I will follow these experts and protect myself,” said Welch, a 26-year-old with asthma and liver disease. “I’m not going to wait six months to a year before they recommend a third dose.”
While Pfizer has announced that it will seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for booster syringes, health officials say those fully vaccinated appear to be well protected for the time being.
Yet health care providers in the United States have reported more than 900 cases of people receiving a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database, an Associated Press review of the system’s data. Since reporting is voluntary, the full extent of who received a third dose is not known. It is also unknown if all of these people were actively trying to get a third dose as a booster.
“I don’t think anyone really has tracking,” to know how widespread it is, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
An entry in the CDC database shows that a 52-year-old man received a third dose from a California pharmacy on July 14 by saying he never received one and by showing his passport for identification instead of a driver’s license. However, when the pharmacy contacted the patient’s health insurance provider, he was told that he had received two doses in March.
In Virginia, a 39-year-old man was given his previous vaccines on the 27th. A record review revealed his previous vaccines. The patient then informed the provider that more than 21 days had passed between their first and second dose.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said at a recent news conference that he knew of residents who received a third dose using false names, but neither his office nor the state health department could provide evidence.
Despite the lack of FDA approval, public health officials in San Francisco said Tuesday that they will provide an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for people who have received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot variety – and them as Supplement rather than a booster.
Several studies are looking at booster vaccinations for specific risk groups – people with weakened immune systems, adults over the age of 60, and healthcare workers. However, judgment is still pending on whether the general population may need them, said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director for infection prevention at UCHealth, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Aurora, Colorado. She said the best data for potential boosters is for people with compromised immune systems.
Israel gives boosters to older adults, and several countries including Germany, Russia, and the UK have approved them for some people. The head of the World Health Organization recently called on wealthier nations to stop giving boosters to ensure vaccine doses are available to other countries where few people have received their first vaccinations.
Will Clart, a 67-year-old patient care worker at a Missouri hospital, received a third dose when he went to a local pharmacy in May. Clart said he gave all of his information to the pharmacist, but it wasn’t until after giving the syringe that the pharmacist realized that Clark’s name was in the vaccine system.
“It sounded like it had an advantage. And there was also talk of we need a refresher at some point – mine was out five or six months and I thought I was going to keep going, that will give me a refresher, ”Clart said.
Ted Rall, a political cartoonist, stated in a comment for the Wall Street Journal that he was given a booster based on a history of lung problems, including asthma, swine flu, and repeated attacks of bronchitis and pneumonia.
“I made my decision after reading a report that said states were likely to throw away 26.2 million unused cans due to low demand. My decision had no policy implications and I saved a dose of vaccine from the trash, ”said Rall.
Welch, the Maine graduate student, blames the people who refused to get the vaccine for political reasons. Approximately 60% of eligible people in the United States are fully vaccinated.
“Their absolute demand and their cry for freedom trample our public health and our community health.”