Maine people who qualify for a newly approved COVID-19 booster now can get their extra shot at pharmacies and doctors’ offices across the state.

Walgreens, CVS and Community Pharmacy, a Maine-based chain, are among the pharmacies offering the shots to those with “moderately to severely” compromised immune systems. That includes people undergoing cancer treatments, receiving an organ transplant, taking stem cell treatments or who have HIV or other immunodeficiency diseases, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Immunocompromised people for whom the booster is approved account for about 3 percent of the population. Maine pharmacies are not requiring evidence that a person is immune compromised before dispensing the shots. Pharmacy officials say they are not concerned that this makes it possible for people who are not immune compromised to receive a booster shot.

Studies show that people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have waning immunity to COVID-19, prompting the federal government to approve a booster shot for people at risk. The booster would be for those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and patients would receive another dose of the same vaccine that they got in their first two doses.

There is not yet a booster approved for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Boosters for the elderly could be approved this fall, according to federal health officials. It’s not clear if or when boosters would be approved for the general population.

Amelia Arnold, pharmacy operations manager for Community Pharmacies, which has nine locations in Maine including Gorham and Saco, said that the independent chain decided to offer the booster to anyone who says that they are eligible and produces their vaccination card. The boosters became available on Monday.

Chris Guido, a pharmacist at Community Pharmacy of Gorham in January, when the location began offering COVID-19 vaccinations. On Monday, the pharmacy began offering booster shots to immunocompromised people. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

REMOVING OBSTACLES

Arnold said that while it’s possible people who don’t need the booster could end up getting one by falsely claiming they are immunocompromised, the benefit of encouraging boosters for people who are at risk outweighs the downsides.

It’s also unclear whether a person who is not immunocompromised would gain any benefit by getting a booster at this time. Scientists are still gathering real-life data on the immunity conferred by the vaccines and have not yet determined when protection wanes so much that a booster would be needed.

“We didn’t want to put obstacles in front of people seeking the doses that they need,” Arnold said. Community Pharmacies is encouraging appointments, but also will take walk-ins.

CVS and Walgreens also started offering COVID-19 booster shots to those who say that they qualify.

“Walgreens is committed to administering COVID-19 vaccines to our most vulnerable populations as quickly and safely as possible,” Kevin Ban, Walgreens’ chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Courtney Ampezzan, of Brunswick, who has a rare genetic disorder called WHIM Syndrome that suppresses her immune system, wants to get a booster shot as soon as she can, but will have to wait till November because she recently underwent treatments that temporarily weakened her immune system.

Ampezzan said because of her condition, doctors are not sure whether the vaccines help protect her against COVID-19, but there’s a chance that they do.

VACCINATIONS SLOWLY INCREASING

“If there’s even the slightest possibility that the vaccines protect me from COVID-19, that is worth it to me,” said Ampezzan, who has had to isolate herself for much of the pandemic, except for infrequent outside gatherings with fully vaccinated friends. “Every time I step out my front door I have to do a risk-benefit analysis. I live in fear of COVID.”

As the delta variant surges across the state and nation, Maine’s rate of vaccinations – people getting their first dose – is slowly increasing.

“Stat of the day: COVID-19 vaccinations in Maine are up 11.8 percent compared to one week ago,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a tweet on Monday. “On Aug. 9, Maine was administering an average of 1,601 doses per day. Today, that number stands at 1,790 doses per day.”

More than 825,000 people in Maine have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 61.5 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population. Last week, Gov. Janet Mills mandated that health care workers get immunized for COVID-19.

Also on Monday, the Maine CDC announced new vaccination clinics, including at the Union Fair, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 26, offering the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. No appointment is necessary and everyone who gets vaccinated receives a free pass to the fair for Aug. 27 or Aug. 28.

Another clinic will be held at the Burnham Town Hall, 2-6 p.m. on Aug. 23, offering Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.


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