On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a joint statement from public health and medical experts on the Biden Administration’s plan for COVID-19 booster shots for the American people. Pending the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations, the Biden Administration announced that the third vaccine shot will be available as early as September 20. On August 12, 2021 the FDA announced that a third vaccine dose is recommended for immunocompromised individuals effective immediately. Many Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities are presently updating or creating internal policies to administer the shot and contact their immunocompromised patients. Community Health Representatives and public health nurses will work to provide shots to patients who are homebound, disabled, or lack transportation. Tribal health systems are also reaching out to immunocompromised patients and planning vaccination events for boosters.
Currently, the three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – authorized for use in the U.S., IHS facilities, and Tribal health systems are effective at reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 infection including the more contagious Delta variant. Booster shots are recommended immediately for immunocompromised individuals. Once approved by the FDA and following ACIP recommendations, booster shots for all other individuals will be given eight months after a person’s second vaccine dose. American Indians and Alaska Natives who were vaccinated during the beginning of the vaccine rollout in December 2020 will mostly likely be eligible for the booster upon release the week of September 20. At this time, there is not a recommendation for a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine booster. However, data is still being collected and it is expected that a booster shot of the J&J vaccine will be needed.
As the Delta variant, the most contagious of the Covid-19 strain, enters Tribal communities, Tribes continue to lead the way in vaccination efforts to protect youth, elders, and communities. The Delta variant is rapidly spreading, and Tribal and community leaders as well as IHS and Tribal healthcare providers, continue to recommend that partially vaccinated and unvaccinated AI/ANs receive the COVID-19 vaccine to reduce the spread of this terrible virus.
A booster is recommended by experts who examined recent scientific data and have seen evidence that protection against mild and moderate illness decreases over time. To maximize and prolong protection and continue to protect our Tribal communities, it is recommended that Tribal Nations continue vaccination efforts and follow updated vaccine guidance and information in order to best plan for administering COVID-19 booster shots if needed.
For vaccine resources, check out National Indian Health Board’s (NIHB) “Questions to Ask Your Provider” for patients to use when considering getting a COVID-19 vaccine. For answers on the Delta variant from the White House Vaccine Coordinator and a Native physician, watch the webinar “Response to the Delta Variant in Tribal Communities Webinar” – the first in the NIHB #ACTOFLOVE COVID-19 Vaccine Webinar Series in partnership with the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP).