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SALT LAKE CITY — Retired nurse Donnagay Applonie wanted to make it clear that she and her husband, Gene, didn't get COVID-19 booster shots Monday because they were concerned the vaccines they received in March might be losing their effectiveness against the deadly virus.
"I wasn't even worried about it," she said, deciding the Kaysville couple should get Pfizer booster shots at the Davis County Health Department's drive-through clinic in Farmington only after her "medical friends" suggested it would be a good idea. "I just think it's extra safety. I'm not sure our immunity was waning or anything."
Both Donnagay and Gene Applonie, a cancer survivor who's had heart surgery, said they'll continue to wear masks and take other precautions after the booster shots, citing other family members hit hard by COVID-19, including a daughter-in-law who was not vaccinated and has spent weeks on oxygen.
People were lined up at the drive-through clinic Monday, the first day that Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots were available there in addition to Pfizer after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded eligibility late last Thursday.
Now, coronavirus booster shots are available to many people who initially received the Moderna vaccine along with everyone who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC is also allowing anyone eligible for a booster shot to choose whichever of the three brands they prefer.
"When we opened our doors we had a steady line of people for the first hour, hour and a half," Trevor Warner, Davis County Health Department spokesman, said. The clinic, open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, had already administered some 13,000 Pfizer booster shots since those were approved in late September, he said.
Appointments for booster shots at the Legacy Events Center are required and can be made online but Warner said they're going fast. More than 90% of the 1,200 to 1,400 vaccine doses expected to be administered daily at the clinic are likely to be booster shots for the fully vaccinated who qualify, he said.
Eligibility requirements for booster shots are based on the initial vaccine received, the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna, which use a new technology, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson.
Pfizer or Moderna booster shot requirements
- Received their second dose at least six months ago
- Are at least 65 years old OR are 18 or older AND
- Live in a long-term care facility OR
- Have a specified medical condition seen as making someone more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, such as cancer, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, chronic kidney, liver or lung disease, obesity, pregnancy, HIV, organ transplant, smoking or substance abuse OR
- Work in a setting deemed high risk, such as health care, first responders, schools, correctional facilities, grocery stores, manufacturing plants, the U.S. Postal Service, homeless shelters, public transit, food and agriculture.
Johnson & Johnson booster shot requirements
- Received their single dose at least two months ago
- Are 18 or older
Intermountain Healthcare, the region's largest health care provider, is offering booster shots at 74 sites throughout the state, said Lori Abeyta, a clinical specialist for Intermountain Healthcare who's leading the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for medical clinics.
"There's tons of interest. The phones on Friday were just ringing off the hook with patients calling, wanting to get appointments to get booster shots," Abeyta said, because "there was a lot of pent up demand for Moderna and J&J because it took longer to get those boosters approved."
Some doctors offices were able to start giving booster shots by Friday afternoon, she said, but most began on Monday.
Patients are advised to contact their primary care physician about scheduling an appointment for a booster shot, which may be handled by staff or available at after-hours flu shot clinics being held in some locations. Experts say someone can safely get both a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot at the same time.
If they can't get in as soon as they'd like, or the type of vaccine they want isn't available, Abeyta said patients are directed to the list of pharmacies, local health departments and other locations where vaccinations are available, posted on the state's COVID-19 website, coronavirus.utah.gov, and the CDC's vaccines.gov website.
Abeyta said she hasn't heard from doctors yet about the impact of patients being able to "mix and match" booster shots rather than sticking to the brand they initially received. A recent study suggested Pfizer and Moderna booster shots produce more benefits than Johnson and Johnson, but all increase protection against the virus.
"All three brands are great products and we'd recommend patients get whichever brand is available to them," Abeyta said. Pfizer is the most popular among doctors because the smaller vial means less potential for vaccine waste, she said, adding, "we don't have a preference as to which one you get."
The state is beefing up its vaccine supplies to accommodate the demand for booster shots, Rich Lakin, Utah Department of Health immunization director, said. Lakin said more than 38,000 doses of Pfizer, 19,000 of Moderna and 16,500 of Johnson & Johnson have been ordered.
His advice to Utahns who are anxious to get a booster shot is to be patient.
"We don't need to rush and panic," he said, warning it may take a week or two to get an appointment as many of the first Utahns to get vaccinated scramble for booster shots. "Remember, these people are still fully vaccinated. We're just boosting them for the winter time."