An advisory committee to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Friday to discuss whether to recommend booster shots of coronavirus vaccine.
But thousands of Coloradans may have already taken matters into their own hands. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the state’s immunization registry shows more than 6,800 people as having received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
That number doesn’t include people who received an additional dose after one of their earlier doses of a two-dose vaccine was determined to have been spoiled. But it is likely swelled by data-entry errors that mistakenly recorded a third dose.
So, while the state believes some people have probably snuck into the queue to receive COVID-19 vaccine booster shots before they’re officially authorized, it’s not sure how many.
“CDPHE is continually working on improving data quality and completeness,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email.
Interest in COVID vaccine booster shots has soared in recent weeks alongside a dramatic increase in case counts and new evidence that the virus’ delta variant is better at getting past the wall of protection vaccines provide. Israel, one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world, is rolling out booster shots to seniors in the hopes of crushing a new wave of infections caused by the delta variant.
The boosters are an additional dose of the same vaccine given during the first two shots, meaning they are not specially formulated for delta or any other variants.
On Friday, the influential Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet to examine data and discuss whether to recommend approval for giving booster doses to immunocompromised people, according to an agenda for the meeting. The committee is made up of doctors and other experts from outside the CDC, including a pediatrician in Colorado. The federal government typically adopts its recommendations.
People with weakened immune systems are especially at risk during the surge caused by the delta variant because their body might not have responded as strongly to the first two doses of vaccine. That means their immune systems may be less prepared to fight off a coronavirus infection.
But the surge in cases has also created interest among the general public in getting a booster dose of vaccine — whether it is a third dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer two-dose vaccines or a second dose of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
At a news conference last week, Gov. Jared Polis said state officials have heard of some people using a different name or address to sneak into line for an extra shot. Polis urged the federal Food and Drug Administration to act quickly on a request by Pfizer to authorize booster shots.
“It’s really important that the FDA move at the speed of the pandemic and meet people where they are at,” Polis said. “I really hope the FDA can rise to the occasion.”
CDPHE says 21,660 people show up in the state’s immunization registry as having received three doses of coronavirus vaccine. Most of those, however, received an additional dose after one of their first two doses was invalidated by the state — for instance, due to a storage mishap that may have caused the dose to expire prior to being given. This is what happened to people who received two doses at a clinic in Colorado Springs that was shut down by the state.
That leaves 6,882 people, as of Monday, who were recorded as having received three doses. A CDPHE spokesman said it’s possible some of those are data goofs — people who received only two shots but were accidentally listed as having received a third.
Some of those extra doses also came due to errors on the part of a vaccine provider.
Since federal authorities have not yet approved booster shots, providers are supposed to report a third dose to a federal database as an administration error. But the database, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, shows only a handful of reports for third doses being administered in Colorado — and mostly because the provider made a mistake.
For instance, there is a report from a provider administering shots at a Colorado nursing home who gave a third dose to a man they didn’t realize had already received two shots at another facility.
Jessica Bralish, a spokeswoman for CDPHE, said that vaccine providers have access to the immunization registry and can check if a person has already received two doses prior to an appointment. But it’s unclear how many providers are actually doing that and are actively stopping people from sneaking in to get booster shots.
Meanwhile, the state is already preparing for a new phase of the vaccination campaign — one in which it helps to get third doses into arms.
“We are monitoring for updated information and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration,” Bralish wrote in an email, “and are beginning to plan for the possibility of boosters in the future.”