State Issues New Requirements for Vaccine Providers Pending CDC Guidance on Booster Shots

The federal government is expected to approve the COVID-19 booster shots for some Americans, and Pennsylvania is taking steps to make sure people can get those shots.

Acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam signed an order September 21 requiring vaccine providers take steps to ensure access to the booster shots. The order requires vaccine providers to offer online scheduling for appointments, phone numbers where callers can reach live agents and walk-in appointments where possible, Beam said.

The order also requires vaccine providers to work with Area Agencies on Aging and Medical Assistance Managed Care Organizations to help give the booster shots to those who can’t leave their homes.

“Pennsylvania is going to be prepared,” Beam said in a news conference at the Hershey Pharmacy.

Pennsylvania providers won’t be able to begin offering booster shots until federal regulators sign off on them, but that is expected in the coming days.

Last week, a government advisory panel signed off on Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for Americans who are 65 or older and for those who have a greater risk of infection. The federal government is expected to soon sign off on booster shots for seniors and vulnerable Americans, possibly later this week, according to The New York Times and other media reports.

Beam said the effort to provide booster shots coincides with Pennsylvania’s continuing efforts to give some residents their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re going to have to do both of those missions at once,” Beam said. “The best news is we are prepared this time.”

The primary COVID-19 vaccination effort is ongoing, as Beam noted the state has transitioned from the mass clinics employed earlier this year to community-based efforts. More than 3,200 providers are giving COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania.

On average, the state is administering 16,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per day, she said. About 68% of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated.

“We still have a long way to go but we are making steady progress,” Beam said.

Pennsylvania Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said the booster shots could offer additional protection for seniors and those with compromised immune systems.

Johnson noted the vaccines have been extremely successful at keeping people out of the hospital. State officials have said 95% of those hospitalized this year have not been fully vaccinated.

But Johnson noted some studies indicate the vaccine’s effectiveness has ebbed a bit for seniors months after they received their initial doses, and the booster shots can offer additional protection.

She urged those who still have hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccines to talk with their own doctors or pharmacists to be reassured of the safety of the vaccines.

“I’m encouraging you to get your COVID vaccine to protect yourself, those around you and those who cannot receive the vaccines, such as children under 12,” Johnson said.

“You have the power to finish this.”

Last week, the federal advisory panel voted against recommending Pfizer booster shots for all Americans, saying more data was needed, but the panel unanimously endorsed booster shots for seniors, those with serious health complications and those at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus.