The V.I. Health Department will now begin to offer a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to immunocompromised individuals, it announced on Thursday.
This is different from a booster shot, which is administered when the immune response to the initial vaccine series decreases over time, the Health Department said.
The new policy follows Monday’s announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it has given formal approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those age 16 and older. The vaccine, which will now go by the name Comirnaty, continues to be available under emergency use authorization for individuals 12 to 15 years old, and now for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals, the Health Department reported.
This third dose is now available to those who meet the criteria in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the department said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are more at risk of serious, prolonged illness. People with moderately to severely compromised immune systems may not build the same level of immunity to 2-dose vaccine series compared to people who are not immunocompromised. People who have compromised immune systems may benefit from an additional dose to make sure they have enough protection against COVID-19.”
It is important to note that the third dose must be administered 28 days after a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the Health Department said in Thursday’s press release. “For multi-dose vaccines, the same vaccine product should be used for additional doses. This means that if you received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, once you meet the criteria for a third dose, the Moderna vaccine should be administered. You should not mix vaccine types,” the Health Department said in the press release, adding that it highly recommends keeping your vaccination card in a safe place that is accessible.
Currently, the CDC considers the following to qualify as moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals:
- Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
- Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
- Advanced or untreated HIV infection
- Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response
Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said she is pleased to have this option available to Virgin Islanders with weakened immune systems to improve their response to their initial two-dose vaccine series. “The third dose is just that, an additional dose of the vaccine as part of the multidose sequence for some immunocompromised individuals to help them mount an immune response like what most people get with just two doses,” the Health Department said.
Currently, the CDC does not recommend additional doses or booster shots to other populations outside of the immunocompromised, but Health and Human Services has announced a plan to begin offering COVID-19 booster shots in the future. As the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices continues to share recommendations, local health officials will inform the public on changes to vaccination protocols, the Health Department said.
It is recommended that you speak to your healthcare provider about your medical history to determine if you meet the criteria for the third dose. “I’m encouraging everyone, especially those with weakened immune systems, to get vaccinated. We should all continue washing our hands frequently, maintaining social distancing, and wearing our masks,” Encarnacion added.
Vaccines are free and readily available in the territory. To schedule an appointment, call 340-777-8227 or visit the Health Department’s COVID-19 website. Walk-ins are also accepted at the territory’s Community Vaccination Centers.
St. Croix’s Community Vaccination Center is located at the Nissan Center in La Grande Princesse, adjacent to the Honda Dealership and The Paint Shop, on the same side of the street as Food Town.
On St. Thomas, the Community Vaccination Center is located at the Community Health Clinic on the second floor at the Schneider Regional Medical Center.
To report a suspected case of COVID-19, call 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. For COVID 19 updates, text COVID19USVI to 888777.