What’s the status of COVID-19 boosters and where to get one

By Valerie Royzman, Staff Writer

COVID-19 booster shots were approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week and have become available to several groups of Mainers most vulnerable to the virus.

Only the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is available for boosters.

Across Piscataquis and Somerset counties, chain pharmacies such as Walgreens and Walmart in Palmyra and Skowhegan are already offering the booster shots. Residents can make an appointment online or by calling their local pharmacy. Area Northern Light hospitals are gearing up to offer the boosters soon.

Dover-Foxcroft, Greenville, Pittsfield hospitals will hold booster clinics

Northern Light Health has asked patients to make vaccination appointments online for its hospitals and pharmacy-based clinics. Locations in the area — including Northern Light Mayo Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, Northern Light CA Dean Hospital in Greenville and Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield — have not yet gotten booster shots into the arms of patients, said Dr. David McDermott, senior physician executive and vice president of medical affairs at the Dover-Foxcroft and Greenville hospitals. 

“We are planning on offering booster clinics,” he said. “We have not opened those yet. We are giving boosters to our employees who qualify for them. … We are having a number of meetings to prepare for the distribution of the [booster] vaccines.”

Unlike earlier in the year, when appointments for the primary COVID-19 vaccines were hard to come by, booster shots should be widely available across pharmacies in the community, McDermott said.

The booster shot is not a requirement for people who have already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. It is an option, though, as lab research and data have suggested people’s natural immunity to the vaccine tends to wane after about six months.

The other two available vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have not yet been authorized for use as boosters.

“It does appear the Moderna vaccine generates a higher initial immune response and it sustains a higher level of antibodies,” McDermott said, but echoing medical professionals nationwide, he noted more research is needed.

“Just be patient,” he said. “Know that you’ve got some significant degree of protection from each of those vaccines. News will follow from the FDA and from the manufacturers when boosters are approved.”

McDermott encouraged those who are unvaccinated to rethink their stance and pay attention to what’s happening to vaccinated and unvaccinated people across the region.

“Any time is a good time to do it,” he said. “We know these are very difficult personal choices people are making. We would ask people to ask their family physician or nurse practitioner questions that they have about the vaccine.”

At the hospitals that McDermott oversees, “the COVID situation in Piscataquis County is at the worst point it has ever been,” he said.

Hospital staff are encountering mainly young, healthy people who chose not to get vaccinated and older individuals who tend to have multiple chronic medical problems, he said. Many in the older group are vaccinated, McDermott said, but have caught COVID-19 from unvaccinated people in their communities.

Who qualifies for a booster?

The CDC provided guidelines on who is eligible for the booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine:

— People 65 years and older and residents of congregate care settings should get a booster shot six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

— People aged 50-64 years with underlying medical conditions should get a booster shot six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

— People aged 18-49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine based on each individual’s health risks.

— People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure because of occupational or institutional setting — such as health care workers, educators, grocery store employees, U.S. Postal Service workers and public transit workers — may receive a booster shot six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Here’s where to get a COVID-19 booster vaccine in the area:

Piscataquis and Penobscot counties 

— Shaw’s Pharmacy, 1073 W. Main St., Dover-Foxcroft. Walk-ins are welcome, or schedule an appointment online.

— Walgreens, 151 E. Main St., Dover-Foxcroft. Schedule an appointment online or call 1-800-Walgreens.

— Walgreens, 3 Hudson Ave., Guilford.

— Walgreens, 35 Park St., Milo.

— Walgreens, 66 Moosehead Trail, Newport.

Somerset County

— Four Seasons Family Practice, 4 Sheridan Drive, Fairfield. Call 207-453-3100 to schedule an appointment.

— Walgreens, 123 Main St., Fairfield. Schedule an appointment online or call 1-800-Walgreens.

— Walgreens, 420 Somerset Ave., Pittsfield.

— Walgreens, 225 Madison Ave., Skowhegan.

— Walmart, 1573 Main St., Palmyra. Schedule an appointment online. Drop-in vaccinations are also available.

— Walmart, 60 Fairgrounds Market PL, Skowhegan.

Northern Light Health hospitals in Dover-Foxcroft, Greenville and Pittsfield will soon offer the booster shots.

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