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Duke begins booster shot rollout to immunocompromised faculty and staff, student timeline still unclear

Although the Biden administration has plans to make COVID-19 booster shots available next week, students looking to get one from Duke might have to wait a while. 

Faculty and staff who met the criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for moderate to severe immunocompromisation were able to start scheduling an appointment for a booster shot on Aug. 19. Duke began administering these doses Aug. 23.

“We hope to receive approval to begin offering a booster dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) to health care workers beginning in late September,” Duke Employee Occupational Health & Wellness wrote in an Aug. 19 email sent to faculty and staff. 

Duke’s COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Work Group has yet to announce a timeline for when the broader student population can get their booster shot. 

But a third shot might not be necessary anytime soon for people who are not immunocompromised, according to Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health and associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.

“I don’t think, for example, there’s a great reason for an otherwise healthy individual who just was vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna two months ago, to go back and offer them a third shot, absent some other medical condition, because they will have great protection,” Wolfe said in a Sept. 1 media briefing

Wolfe believes that more data is needed on the benefits of boosting for the general population who are at lower risk. 

“A 35-year-old who has gone through and had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, for example, really has no risk of severe COVID and isn’t in a front-line health care working situation,” Wolfe said. “When we talk about boosting for individuals in the general community, I want to be very clear that to me, that is far less important than still reaching those individuals who are not yet vaccinated at all.”

As of Aug. 18, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services were preparing to offer the COVID-19 booster shot to all Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20 for those who had their second dose at least eight months prior.

Individuals who would be eligible include those who were fully vaccinated earliest, “many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors.” 

They also anticipated that “booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine” and they “expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks.” Duke administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to approximately 12% of its total undergraduate and graduate population in April. 

The Chronicle reached out to Gail Shulby, co-chair of Duke University Health System Universal Flu Vaccination & COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Work Groups, for comment. Shulby referred The Chronicle to Sarah Avery, director of Duke Health News Office. Avery referred The Chronicle to Duke University Communications, who did not respond to a request for comment. 

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