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RI has administered thousands of third doses to immunocompromised people

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While thousands of Rhode Islanders are still choosing not to get vaccinated for COVID-19 at all, roughly 4,600 people have already jumped at the opportunity for an extra dose.

A Target 12 analysis of R.I. Department of Health data shows an average of 270 people per day have received additional doses of the vaccines since the state started administering them on Aug. 13.

“As eligibility goes up, we expect the number of people to move up slightly day-to-day,” Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told Target 12.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t consider the additional doses to be “booster shots,” as they’re currently provided only to individuals with weakened immune systems rather than people whose immunity has declined over time.

The Biden administration has indicated a desire to start providing booster shots to Americans more broadly beginning next month. The CDC’s advisory panel is still evaluating data and hasn’t rendered a decision yet.

Following current federal guidance, additional doses have been offered to Rhode Islanders who are considered “moderately to severely immunocompromised,” in light of data that shows the vaccines are not providing as much protection for those people.

Eligible recipients include cancer patients, organ-transplant recipients and people with advanced or untreated HIV infection.  

Data has shown the vaccines do not provide as much protection to people with weakened immune systems.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an enormous amount of people who would get the third shot,” Wendelken said, adding the state estimates it’s about 3% of the population and only a subset of that group would choose to receive an additional dose.

The extra doses are only being offered currently for people who received either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The CDC says there isn’t enough data yet to approve additional doses of Johnson & Johnson.

“What we don’t know at this time is whether people who are immunocompromised who received the Janssen vaccine (Johnson & Johnson) have an improved immune response following an additional dose of the same vaccine,” CDC officials wrote in an announcement about the additional shots earlier his month.

Health officials are also not recommending Johnson & Johnson recipients to go out and get an additional dose of Pfizer or Moderna, saying “there is not enough data to support” that type of use. The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are currently working on guidance related to this issue, according to health officials.

In Rhode Island, the additional doses are being administered based on the honor system. The Health Department is asking recipients to self-attest to their need for the extra shot, but there’s no verification process and people are not expected to show documentation proving their underlying ailments.

More than 70% of the additional doses have been administered at pharmacies. Another 18% were administered at mass-vacation centers and 5% have been administered at hospitals, according to the Health Department.  

The additional doses come at the same time more than 165,000 eligible Rhode Islanders – aged 12 years and older – still haven’t received their first COVID-19 vaccines, even though they have been widely available for months.

Despite widespread agreement among public health officials and doctors that the vaccines are safe, and provide protection against severe illness and death, Americans remain skeptical or otherwise choosing not to get inoculated.

A Target 12 analysis shows roughly 1,000 new people have received COVID-19 vaccines each day for several weeks.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is an investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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