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North Texas’ COVID-19 booster shot rollout in the works but awaiting federal guidance, officials say

Dallas County has said it is beginning to plan how to handle the next round of immunizations, but nothing has been finalized.

Nearly nine months after COVID-19 vaccinations began, millions of Americans will be coming due for recommended booster shots. But preparations for widely administering another round of shots are still underway across North Texas as officials await federal guidance.

In mid-August, President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to distribute booster shots, beginning Sept. 20, for eligible Americans who received the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

The announcement, however, came before several important “green lights,” including a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization committee and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

So, many area health agencies and county governments are waiting for the go-ahead from federal authorities before finalizing their distribution plans for the boosters, leaving unanswered questions about their availability with only days to go before the anticipated rollout date.

The CDC has not voted on whether to recommend booster shots for the public, and the FDA will meet Sept. 17 to review data on the efficiency of Pfizer’s booster dose. The Moderna shot probably will not be ready by the proposed rollout date, and a booster shot for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not been officially recommended.

“We’re holding until we hear more from the science,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In its announcement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said people should get their booster shots eight months after receiving their second dose of the vaccine. That puts the high-risk groups that were among the first to get vaccinated — health-care workers, the elderly and people who live in long-term care facilities — at the front of the line for the third jab.

Dallas County spokeswoman Lauren Trimble said last week that the county is beginning to plan for a possible rollout of booster shots, but nothing has been finalized.

County health director Dr. Philip Huang has told the County Commissioners Court that there aren’t plans to reopen the large Fair Park vaccination site beyond weekly pop-ups because shots have become more widely available and the demand at the county’s clinics isn’t as high.

He said he expects pharmacies will help reduce the need for county-run sites like the one at Fair Park.

Collin and Tarrant Counties said they are administering third doses to immunocompromised people at their vaccine clinics but will wait for the go-ahead from the CDC and FDA to make the booster shots widely available.

Rockwall County said it also plans to lean on retail locations like CVS and Walgreens pharmacies for the booster shot rollout.

CVS and Walgreens said in written statements that they are awaiting further guidance and approval from health agencies but that they will administer the boosters when they can.

Both pharmacy chains said they’ve been giving third doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to immunocompromised people since mid-August, following an earlier CDC recommendation that people with pre-existing conditions get an extra dose to amp up the vaccines’ immunity.

“This third dose can help increase [an immunocompromised person’s] immune response,” Van Deusen said. “Whereas a booster dose is [for] someone who has gotten the initial vaccines and then immunity wanes and then they need a booster to get that immunity back up.”

All the available varieties of coronavirus vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot, have proved effective against preventing severe illness from the delta variant that has fueled the latest surge in the pandemic. But public health experts say boosters will help reinforce the immune system.

Staff writer Charles Scudder and special contributor Alejandra Canales contributed to this report.

Maggie Prosser, Breaking News Fellow. Maggie is a breaking news fellow at The Dallas Morning News. Raised in Columbus, she's a recent graduate of Ohio University, where she studied journalism and political science. Maggie previously worked at the Chicago Tribune and The Columbus Dispatch.

maggie.prosser@dallasnews.com @ProsserMaggie
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