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September 26, 2021

Philly begins administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots

Senior citizens and adults with underlying health conditions or who work in high-risk settings are now eligible for a third dose

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health began administering booster doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine Saturday following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's recommendation for certain eligible populations to receive a third shot. 

Seniors ages 65 and older, long-term care facility residents and adults ages 50-64 with underlying health conditions who completed Pfizer's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen at least six months ago are now eligible for a booster shot, according to federal guidance issued Friday by the CDC. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the initial round of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots Wednesday.

The CDC has also advised adults ages 18-49 who have preexisting medical conditions and those who work in high-risk settings to consider getting a booster dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine too if they completed the two-shot regimen at least six months ago. Health care workers and teachers are among those who are approved to receive a third shot.

All existing COVID-19 vaccine providers in Philadelphia are being used to administer Pfizer's booster shot, according to the city health department. Residents can find their nearest vaccine clinic by calling 215-685-5488 or by visiting the city's website.

All COVID-19 booster doses are free of charge. Residents do not need identification to receive one, but documentation of having already received two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shots is mandatory.

“We all know how dangerous COVID-19 can be for older Philadelphians, those living in nursing homes, and those with underlying conditions,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said. “With the authorization of booster doses for people who have completed the two-dose regimen of Pfizer vaccine, we can now be sure that they have the maximum level of protection, and I encourage everyone that’s eligible to seek out their booster dose as soon as possible.”

The administration of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots comes as Philly continues to experience a high level of coronavirus transmission, according to the CDC. The city is averaging 280 new COVID-19 infections per day over the past two weeks, health officials said. About 4% of COVID-19 tests came back positive during the two-week period. 

More than 926,000 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while over 1.1 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the city's vaccine dashboard. Over two million COVID-19 doses have been administered across Philly.

The decision to approve third doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for certain populations comes as health officials continue to debate the need for booster shots.

Last month, the Biden administration sought to provide anyone who received the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine with a booster shot at least eight months after their second dose. The White House's policy emerged as the highly-contagious delta variant surged across the country and "breakthrough infections" among fully-vaccinated Americans increased.

Some studies have shown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines wane in immunity over time while still remaining highly effective in protecting against severe disease, hospitalization and death. 

Federal health officials from the CDC, FDA and Department of Health and Human Services have supported giving out booster shots to all fully-vaccinated Americans. But an FDA advisory panel rejected the proposed plan and limited the availability of booster shots to only certain populations.

A number of scientists have argued that most people don't need COVID-19 booster shots due to their effectiveness at preventing severe illness. Some public health officials, most notably the World Health Organization, have urged countries against offering booster shots, emphasizing a greater need for vaccines in areas with limited access.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson's respective COVID-19 vaccines have not been granted approval yet by federal health officials for a booster shot. Only those who are immunocompromised can receive a third Moderna COVID-19 vaccine dose at least four weeks after their second shot.

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