CHAMPAIGN — Now that federal health authorities have defined who needs a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, when can you get one?
In Champaign County, booster-shot clinics will begin Oct. 5, and certain retail sites will also make boosters available.
For now, boosters are only for those who got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for their first two shots and fall into certain age, health and job categories — and who are at least six months past their second dose.
But it’s expected that booster shots will also become available later this fall for those who got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District projects that about 20,000 Champaign County residents will initially qualify for Pfizer boosters based on four eligibility groups defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Awais Vaid, the health district’s deputy administrator.
They include two categories of people who “should” get a Pfizer booster shot — those 65 and older and long-term-care residents and those 50-64 with underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, COPD, heart disease and/or obesity.
Also included under the CDC guidance are two categories of people who “may” receive a Pfizer booster — those 18-49 with underlying medical conditions, and those 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure because they work in front-line jobs. Front-line workers were included in this category by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky over the recommendation of an advisory panel.
Vaid said plans for booster shots in Champaign County will include two public clinic sites in Champaign — Carle Health at Kohl’s plaza and the health district at the I Hotel and Conference Center in south Champaign.
The health district clinic, which will be staffed with the help of Christie Clinic, OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois’ McKinley Health Center, will be operated as a walk-in clinic starting Oct. 5, Vaid said.
Carle officials said its Kohl’s Plaza clinic will begin providing boosters sometime that same week and will require online sign-ups for appointment times.
While a vaccine shortage isn’t anticipated, Vaid said booster-shot clinics in Champaign County will initially prioritize — for the first week or two — those in the two groups that “should” get a booster shot, and then open up to the other two eligible groups.
Vaid also said health-care organizations in the community will begin giving booster shots next week to employees who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
Just as health care workers were the first to become eligible for the vaccine when it was newly available, Vaid said it’s important to make booster shots available to those working in health care given their higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Based on the “tons of phone calls” the health district has received about booster-shot availability, Vaid said he expects there will be a big demand for these shots as they become available.
Once the Carle and health district booster-shot clinics open, Vaid said they’re expected to remain open for some time as additional categories of booster-shot eligibility are added and vaccinations for children ages 5-11 are approved, which he expects to happen later this fall.
While boosters are being rolled out as extra protection for the fully vaccinated, Dr. Robert Healy, Carle’s chief medical quality officer, said getting unvaccinated people vaccinated is what will most help lower the COVID-19 transmission rate.
“The most important thing to do is get that first shot in your arm,” he said.
Carle has made some progress in getting more of its own employees vaccinated. More than 80 percent of Carle employees systemwide have gotten at least one dose, according to COO Matthew Kolb.
“Carle remains focused on ensuring team members have access to COVID-19 vaccine, including the Pfizer booster,” he said.
Carle supports the CDC recommendation for its employees at increased risk of exposure “to consider the booster for more complete protection to limit the chances of hospitalization and severe illness,” Kolb said.