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Vt. health leaders explain who’s eligible for COVID booster shots

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 8:48 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Experts are weighing booster shots in the fight against coronavirus, but one group of people is already eligible-- those who are immunocompromised.

“There is no one definition of what it means to be immunocompromised and there are lots of ways we can become immunocompromised,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist with the UVM Medical Center.

It’s a term we are becoming more and more familiar with. Lahey says COVID-19′s relationship to the immunocompromised is still being studied.

“Immunocompromised is not one thing, and it’s really not black white, there are lots of shades of gray,” Lahey said.

He breaks down the concept of COVID-19 entering the body with an analogy.

“The way immunocompromised makes you sick is there are fewer soldiers manning the ramparts, ready when the invader shows up,” Lahey explained.

Booster COVID-19 vaccines came online last month, but for a small population.

“Estimated, it’s about 3% of the population that would fall into that category,” said Kelly Dougherty, Vermont’s deputy health commissioner.

Those eligible now include those actively receiving cancer treatment, stem cell or organ recipients, or even those taking corticosteroids, among others.

Dougherty says in many cases, you would know if you were included in the category.

Those with chronic conditions who had the vaccine opened to them early last spring are not yet eligible. This third dose isn’t to address waning immunity.

“It’s that if you are immunocompromised, then your immune system may not mount a strong enough response to the first two doses that you received,” said Dougherty.

Dougherty says we will be learning more about the other roughly 97% of the population in the coming weeks.

“We are also looking at ways we can alert the public when they are eligible, so we have our immunization registry that collects data on all the immunizations that are provided. So we may be able to generate letters or other reminders to people when they become eligible just to encourage people to get that dose when it does become available,” said Dougherty.

But both Dr. Lahey and Dougherty say when in doubt, it’s always better to ask your doctor.

“The details, I think, are something that needs to be worked out with their physicians. I think it makes sense for them to, if they have a question about whether their health condition causes them to be immunocompromised, ask their primary care doc,” Lahey said.

The Biden administration is expected to address boosters in the coming weeks.

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