Texas Tech in El Paso to give out COVID vaccine boosters to avoid wasting unused doses
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso is offering COVID-19 booster shots to adults this weekend in an effort to use 1,200 Pfizer doses set to expire at the end of the month.
People can receive a Pfizer booster if they are immunocompromised or if it’s been at least eight months since their second dose of the Pfizer or Modena vaccine, or sole dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, university officials said.
Though the Food and Drug Administration has only granted emergency use authorization for a third dose to be given to immunocompromised people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone receive an extra dose eight months after they are fully vaccinated.
TTUHSC El Paso President Dr. Richard Lange said the university is following the CDC’s recommendation in the hope that none of its doses go to waste.
“We feel like we’ve done a really good job of trying to get primary doses out, but even then we’re doing about 20 or 30 or 40 or 50” at vaccination clinics the medical school has organized at schools and sporting events, Lange said.
“We want to make sure we hit our primary goals first — that is first-time (vaccine recipients), second-time doses and those that are immunocompromised, but we don’t want the (other doses) to go to waste.”
People eligible for a third-dose booster shot at the Texas Tech event would be those vaccinated in December or January, when vaccines were restricted to people over age 65, those with comorbidities that put them at heightened risk from COVID-19, and health-care workers and first responders.
Nearly 62% of El Paso County residents are fully vaccinated, well above the statewide rate of 49%, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of state data. Close to 97% of El Pasoans age 65 and older, who are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized from the virus, have received at least one dose.
Though the need for a booster shot among people who are not immunocompromised is still up for debate in the scientific community, studies have shown that it increases antibody levels, which gives more protection against the virus. There are no long-term studies showing whether boosters significantly decrease infection rates, Lange said.
Fully vaccinated individuals who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or obesity are good candidates for an extra dose, Lange said.
President Joe Biden announced last month that he wants boosters to be available at pharmacies for healthy adults by the end of September.
Many in the international health community, like the World Health Organization, have been critical of the president’s booster campaign. They want the United States and other wealthy countries to hold off offering additional doses to fully vaccinated adults who are not immunocompromised until at least the end of 2021 so poorer countries can vaccinate more of their populations.
Texas Tech cannot send its unused Pfizer doses across the border to hospitals and clinics in Mexico, Lange said, because the country only accepts vaccines sent directly from the U.S. government.
Some El Paso pharmacies are giving boosters to those who are not immunocompromised, Lange said.
El Pasoans wanting a vaccine booster or their first or second Pfizer dose must register online for the university’s Friday or Saturday clinics, which can be done here.
The Friday clinic will take place from 3-8 p.m. and the Saturday clinic from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Medical Sciences Building II, 137 Rick Francis St.
Disclosure: Dr. Richard Lange is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters.
Cover photo: Vials of the COVID-19 vaccine are seen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020 (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)