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Faced with yet another holiday season amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many patients are looking for guidance and protection as they navigate the virus and the highly contagious delta variant that is surging throughout the country. Following recent federal approvals, nurse practitioners (NPs) are now seeing an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations in their place of practice.
In late September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released a statement announcing that COVID-19 vaccine booster shots would be made available to certain recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine who completed their initial vaccinations at least 6 months ago. Individuals applicable for the booster shot include those who are 65 years and older, as well as individuals 18 years and older who have underlying medical conditions, work in high-risk settings or live in high-risk settings.
On October 21, the CDC provided a statement recommending booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines. While the guidance for the Moderna vaccine is identical to that of Pfizer-BioNTech booster, all recipients of the Janssen vaccine 18 years and older who received their vaccine two or more months ago are being encouraged to get their booster shot.
These announcements have opened the door for many at-risk individuals to protect themselves from the virus, but it has also left some patients with various questions about vaccine effectiveness, booster eligibility and other potential precautions against COVID-19.
According to studies collected by the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine’s ability to protect individuals against the virus may decrease over time, making it less effective at protecting against the Delta variant. Though the vaccine is still effective at preventing hospitalizations and major illness even amongst the high-risk 65 years and older demographic, the vaccine becomes less effective at preventing infections or milder illnesses with symptoms.
This analysis is supported by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who studied all currently available data before authorizing booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for certain populations back in September 22 of this year. Following studies conducted by the vaccine’s manufacturer between July and August of 2021, the FDA observed that those who received the primary two-dose Pfizer vaccine earlier on in the test period had a higher incidence of COVID-19 than those who received their two doses of the vaccine later on.
Additionally, researchers from Pfizer-BioNTech concluded that the booster dose is safe and can raise antibody levels back up to where they were directly following the second dose. This is especially true for individuals ages 65 and up. Reactions to the booster shot have so far been similar to that of the initial vaccinations, with fatigue and pain at the injection site being the most widely reported side effects of this new dose. Most side effects have been mild to moderate, although the possibility of rarer, more serious side effects does exist.
As it currently stands, the FDA and the CDC concur that a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is the best recourse for high-risk individuals to protect themselves against the surging delta variant of the virus. In the continuing effort to increase vaccine confidence, NPs are encouraged to educate their patients on the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.
The FDA and the CDC have authorized the implementation of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine who meet the following criteria:
In addition to this, booster shots are also recommended for those individuals 18 years and older who received the Janssen vaccine two or more months ago.
With booster recommendations in place for all three available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose. Some patients may stick to the vaccine type that they originally received, while others may prefer to get a different booster. The CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mix and match dosing for booster shots.
Individuals who meet any of the above criteria should speak to their NPs about this new vaccination effort and schedule their booster dose today. This especially includes any patients who work as first responders, education staff or those working in a grocery store, manufacturing or public transit settings. NPs should advise any individuals who do not currently meet the criteria to stay tuned for further updates from their practice regarding their booster shot eligibility.
In addition to all eligible recipients obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot in a timely manner, it’s important to stay protected from influenza and remain up to date regarding the latest COVID-19 safety guidelines on a federal, state and local level.
With the onset of the flu season, the CDC has allowed for the coadministration of the COVID-19 vaccine alongside other vaccines, like the influenza (flu) vaccine. Patients already making their appointments for the COVID-19 booster dose may want to go ahead and receive their flu shot at the same time. Even for those who are not currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, receiving the flu shot is an important measure to reduce flu illnesses and avoid any potential COVID-19 concerns that stem from the similarities between the two contagious respiratory illnesses.
Regardless of whether or not an individual has received their COVID-19 booster shot, they are still considered fully vaccinated and, as such, should abide by the fully-vaccinated COVID-19 safety precautions. This includes wearing a mask indoors in public spaces, crowded outdoor areas and all forms of public transit. They should continue to follow the guidance of their workplace and local businesses and watch out for any symptoms of COVID-19, especially if they’ve been around someone who is sick. If an individual develops symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested and isolate at home, as needed. Those individuals with a condition or taking a medication that weakens the immune system should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people until instructed otherwise by their NP.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurse practitioners have often served as the primary educators and advocates for the vaccination and safety of all their patients. As the pandemic, and all its subsequent vaccinations, guidance and restrictions, change and evolve on a near-constant basis, it is crucial that all NPs stay up to date on all things COVID-related.
Help your patients make informed decisions about their health and safety by sharing reliable information and keeping them abreast of all the latest COVID-19 vaccination updates. Visit AANP’s COVID-19 webpage to access the most current information on immunization and treatment.
Do you want an easy way to keep all the latest COVID-19 vaccination news and resources for nurse practitioners in the palm of your hand? Download the AANP Mobile App to instantly access the COVID-19 webpage, updated Monday through Friday.