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D.C.-area health departments offer third doses of vaccines to immunocompromised

Maryland National Guard Sgt. Joshua Milewski prepares a syringe containing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during a back-to-school event at FedEx Field in Landover on Aug. 17. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
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Some health departments in the D.C. region are beginning to offer third doses of coronavirus vaccines to immunocompromised residents, after federal officials authorized the move last week for this small group.

Virginia state health officials said on Friday that vaccine providers were able to begin offering the additional shots as early as Aug. 14. Officials in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the city of Alexandria have all announced that third doses are available at their government-run vaccination sites, with individuals required to confirm that they have a qualifying condition.

Officials in D.C. and Maryland have not yet announced specific plans to administer the extra shots to their immunocompromised residents, although Howard County also said on Tuesday that it was providing third doses.

The region has seen a steady rise in new coronavirus cases in recent weeks, in part because of the highly contagious delta variant. An average daily total of 3,200 new cases were reported across all three jurisdictions in the past week. Figures that high were last recorded in mid-February.

The additional shots are for people with medical conditions that either suppress the immune system or require them to take immunosuppressive medication. Cancer patients undergoing active treatment, some organ and stem cell transplant recipients, people with moderate or severe immunodeficiencies, people with advanced or untreated HIV, and those taking high-dose corticosteroids are in this group.

Virginia officials estimated that approximately 124,300 people — or about 3 percent of the state’s vaccinated population — are eligible.

Maryland Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said Tuesday that health officials are working on the state’s plan for providing a third dose to the immunocompromised. He estimated that there are a couple hundred thousand Maryland residents who will be eligible.

“We have multiple channels — physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, local health departments,” he said, noting the locations where the shots will be administered. “We’re going to be encouraging that.”

Schrader said the state will rely heavily on doctors who will have to identify those with a condition that makes them eligible for an additional shot.

He said doctors, who may not have the vaccine available to administer, will be able to write a prescription that a patient could take to the pharmacy, hospital or local health department.

“We really want the doctors to make that determination,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a third dose for the immunocompromised last week, after an expert advisory panel unanimously endorsed the plan. President Biden is planning to announce that most others who are vaccinated will need booster shots, although doses for the general population would not be administered until mid- or late September.

CDC backs third vaccine dose for immunocompromised people

Third doses have only been recommended for vaccinated individuals who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Qualifying individuals should get the same vaccine they received in the first two shots, at least 28 days after the date of their second dose, federal health officials said.

The CDC has not yet made a recommendation for immunocompromised people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said in a news conference Monday that the city is urging D.C. residents to speak with their health-care providers about whether an additional dose is appropriate.

Nesbitt added that there are “many locations throughout the city where they can access that additional dose.” She said all eligible individuals should already be receiving regular health care for their qualifying medical condition.

While government data shows that about 1 million people nationally have managed to receive an unauthorized third dose, she said, those registries offer no way for D.C. — or any other jurisdiction — to ensure that those seeking another shot at city-run sites are in fact eligible.

“We want to be clear: This is an additional dose. This is not a booster,” she said.