Medically at-risk North Carolinians can get third COVID shot: Here’s what to know

CHARLOTTE — North Carolina health officials said Monday that medically vulnerable residents with certain health conditions can get an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine, though some have already had a third Pfizer or Moderna shot after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it last week.

The FDA signed off on the additional dose after emerging data suggested people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems do not necessarily build the same level of immunity as others who are not immunocompromised.

Maura Wozniak, a 43-year-old Charlotte-area resident with cystic fibrosis, said she didn’t develop any antibodies after receiving the first two Pfizer doses. After speaking with her pharmacist shortly after the FDA approved the additional shot, she got a third Pfizer dose Saturday in Huntersville.

She hopes the third shot will give her more protection, especially against the more contagious delta variant. If nothing else, she said she’ll feel less anxious about the pandemic.

“I’m hopeful that I do get some antibodies from it,” Wozniak said. “Psychologically, it’s going to help a lot.”

The stay-at-home mother is excited to have her two 12-year-old kids return to school this month masked and in-person. But because she remains medically vulnerable and feels unsafe, she and her family will continue wearing masks indoors. Wozniak said she also has decided not to pursue as many school volunteer opportunities as she had hoped.

When she got the vaccine in March after months of waiting because the state had prioritized healthy people in older age groups over younger people like her with chronic conditions, she never imagined transmission of the virus would be as severe as it is today.

“Did I ever think in a million years we’d still be in this spot with school starting up? No, not at all,” she said.

Data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the share of tests coming back positive at their worst levels in more than six months.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which is where Wozniak’s kids will return this month, is one of several public school systems heeding the advice of health experts to require students to wear masks inside classrooms. Starting Wednesday, the city of Charlotte and unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County will impose an indoor mask mandate.

“We need more people in our community to get vaccinated, which is the best way for us to get back to normal for the long-term,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said in a statement Monday. “Unless we do better on getting shots in arms, this won’t be the last time we have to mandate masks or other measures.”

Lack of demand for vaccines has contributed to tens of thousands of doses being thrown out.

Since the beginning of vaccine distribution in December 2020, North Carolina has received more than 7.6 million doses among state providers, which excludes federal pharmacy program partners like Walgreens and CVS. Data the state health department shared with The Associated Press on Monday show more than 250,000 of the 7.6 million doses, or 3%, were unusable for any number of reasons, including nearly 52,000 expired shots, as of Aug. 2.

Despite the worsening metrics and wasted doses, North Carolinians have recently gotten vaccinated in greater numbers amid delta variant fears, employer vaccine mandates and stronger financial incentives for receiving a first dose.

More than 3 in 5 residents eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine because they are at least 12 years old have gotten at least one shot. Immunocompromised North Carolinians who are 12 and older can get a third Pfizer vaccine, while adults 18 and older qualify for an extra Moderna shot.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

‘I think it’s going to be a good thing’: Novant working to provide boosters to immunocompromised

Novant Health said on Tuesday that about one in 10 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are in their late 70s. They have chronic medical conditions and were vaccinated early on in the pandemic, which is a big reason why they are the first to get the booster shot.

“My mother is a cancer patient, and she got her third dose, and I think that’s real important,” said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health’s Chief Safety, Quality and Epidemiology Officer.

Priest said Novant is working to provide the third dose booster to other immunocompromised patients as soon as possible.

Below are some answers provided by Novant Health to frequently asked questions about the booster:

Why is the booster first available to those who are immunocompromised?

Novant Health says that 9% of patients who are in hospital right now with COVID-19 are around 77 years old. They have chronic medical conditions and were vaccinated early in the pandemic.

“I think it will help with the delta variant, particularly with vulnerable individuals who didn’t respond as well to vaccines before and need that additional boost to their antibodies level, their t-cell response,” Priest said.

When will Novant Health offer the booster?

The hospital is hoping to offer it as soon as possible.

When will the booster be available to everyone?

There hasn’t been an official announcement. The New York Times is reporting the Biden Administration is expected to recommend a booster for all Americans eight months after getting the initial vaccine. That could happen as early as mid-September.

How important is it for fully vaccinated people to get the booster at 8 months?

“Often, in vaccination series, there is a window of time for vaccinates to give. Give a dose today and the second dose come 2-6 months. It depends on the individual and their immune system. You don’t have to set your watch to some of these second doses as to when they are given. I think this is no different. If you’ve had two doses and ultimately the guidance says eight months, probably get it at nine months or 10 months -- whatever it is,” Priest said.

What will the rollout look like?

It is unclear. Priest says Novant hasn’t received guidance from the state, but he suspects it could look different from the fall rollout. Since there is so much supply, it could be open to anyone who is fully vaccinated and wants it.

What happens after the booster? Do I need more shots in the future?

“In terms of what the future holds in boosters, I don’t know,” Priest said. “I’ll be curious to review what we anticipate with this third dose. I think after that, we’ll probably see the development of true boosters. When we talk about what we are doing now -- that’s a third dose of the vaccines we have now -- a true booster would come with a formulation that targets a specific variant like the delta variant.”

Can you mix brands?

Last week, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said you can mix brands. For example, if you got Pfizer for your first and second doses, and only Moderna is available for your third dose booster, Priest says to go ahead and get the Moderna.

The committee did not give guidance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte indoor mask mandate to go into effect Wednesday; county may soon follow)