With delta variant spreading, will CT residents need COVID booster shots?

Griffin nurses prepare the shot the shot during the Griffin Hospital COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Stew Leonard's flagship store Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn. The free clinic continues Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Norwalk store.

Griffin nurses prepare the shot the shot during the Griffin Hospital COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Stew Leonard's flagship store Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn. The free clinic continues Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Norwalk store.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

With several countries now offering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to their citizens, state officials said conversations were underway to prepare if federal regulators approve another dose.

But it still remains unclear what those regulators will decide as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase locally and across the country.

“Obviously, I think, they are moving closer to boosters starting with folks who are immunocompromised, or have some greater risk, or had their vaccines a while ago. And I will be waiting for their lead,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday morning.

Pfizer, the maker of the first vaccine authorized, has already said it intends to seek approval for a booster shot. The company cited data out of Israel suggesting the protection offered by its normal two-dose regimen of shots may decline six months after full-vaccination.

The company said it believes a third dose will also make its vaccine more effective against the highly infectious delta variant, which is now believed to be the dominant strain in Connecticut and the rest of the United States.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said people who are fully vaccinated should begin wearing masks indoors again in areas where the virus is spreading.

Here’s what we know so far about vaccine booster shots.

Will boosters be available in the U.S.?

Some think it’s likely.

“I think it’s more likely than not,” said Keith Grant, senior system director of infection prevention at Hartford HealthCare. But based on the data currently available, he said he didn’t think pursuing booster shots should be the “top priority,” when a relatively small amount of COVID-19 cases involve break through infections.

“Breaking down that data even further, it’s a very small percentage of individuals that have been vaccinated that fall into the breakthrough category that end up needing critical care,” he said.

He argued that resources should be focused on vaccinating people who are still unvaccinated.

Who will get boosters?

Biden administration officials have indicated older Americans and those with underlying health conditions could start receving booster shots as early as September, the New York Times reported last month.

Other countries already offering booster shots are following a similar plan.

Israel began offering a third dose to those aged 60 and above last week. Officials in Germany announced the country will begin offering boosters to older people and those with underlying medical conditions beginning in September. France is also administering booster shots, while Belgium and Italy both say they are preparing to offer them this fall but are still gathering data.

Can I get a booster shot now?

Officially, no booster shots have been authorized for any of the makers of the three vaccines authorized for use in the United States.

But some people who have already been fully vaccinated against the disease have reported getting an extra shot amid concerns about the delta variant.

Some are even mixing-and-matching different vaccines in doing so.

One Georgetown University virologist told CNBC she received a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine about two months after she was given a dose of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

One woman told the New York Times she received two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.K., and then got a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Florida. She told the newspaper she had read a study that suggested mixing the two vaccines could boost immunity.

Grant said that sort of mixing and matching makes sense theoretically, “but we don’t have any data to support it.”

Pfizer has said a third dose of its vaccine has been shown to boost the body’s immune response in studies. Grant that sort of booster shot seems “harmless” based on the data that’s already known.

He noted that heath care providers giving the shot could look up someone’s vaccine status on the state’s immunization database.

Will it be hard to get an appointment for a booster shot?

Acting Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford of the Connecticut Department of Public Health said Monday she doesn’t think “supply will be an issue” in the event boosters are recommended.

As the state slowly opened up its supply of vaccines by age bracket this past winter and spring, appointments were snapped up almost as soon as they became available. The limited supply of doses mixed with high demand led some to turn to Facebook groups and other unorthodox sources to try to secure an appointment.

But since demand for shots peaked in early April, weekly administrations of vaccines have fallen drastically, down from over 315,000 in a week to hovering in the 30,000 range.

But Gifford said the state doesn’t anticipate vaccine shortages like late last year.

“It won't be like last December when we started the vaccine program,” she said Monday. “There's ample supply. As the governor indicated, it is likely it will just be for a subset of those of us who are vaccinated.”