Seeking peace of mind, some Minnesotans bypass COVID-19 recall guidelines
Gary’s wife, Rose, accompanied him. With her immune system intact, Rose was not allowed to be vaccinated that day. But as the couple waited the required 15 minutes after Gary’s hit, Rose asked the pharmacist if she could get a Moderna booster.
âShe said ‘oh sure’,â Rose said. “She gave me papers and it was all about your immune system and I checked ‘no’ on every thing.”
âNo questions were asked,â Gary said. âWe don’t know why. Maybe they had additional vaccines.
Frustrated with the pace of federal approval of vaccine recalls, seeking peace of mind or just a sense of normalcy, an unknown number of Minnesotans have moved ahead of federal guidelines on COVID-19 recalls, instead taking their health decisions in hand by finding a second or third vaccine at consenting pharmacies or other vaccine suppliers.
Currently, a limited number of people are eligible for additional doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine if, like Gary Spielman, they have weakened immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given seniors or high-risk people the green light to get a Pfizer recall.
About 44,000 immunocompromised people in Minnesota received a third dose. Since the CDC cleared Pfizer boosters, an average of about 4,400 is administered daily, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
For Rose Spielman, who is 68, she says getting that extra shot from Moderna was about protecting her husband. She did not want to be the source of accidental transmission of the virus.
âI just don’t want to risk anything, I’m getting really sick with him being so compromised,â she said.
But it was also a practical matter of wanting to feel safe while looking back on life before the pandemic.
“Other family members that I know haven’t had any vaccines from my end and it’s really frustrating for me to talk to them or reunite with them without them being immune at all.”
Annie Boehm, 62, said she strongly believes everyone is vaccinated to keep the community as a whole safe. So, last spring, Boehm, of Northfield, Minnesota, said she was happy to receive the single dose vaccine from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
âI wholeheartedly approve of people who get vaccinated even if they are not afraid of getting sick,â she said.
But as the summer wore on and cases spiked again due to the highly contagious delta variant, Boehm feared his shot was not working well enough.
âI am really very concerned about my health and that of my husband,â she said.
With the news that there were thousands of unused vaccines on the shelves, Boehm went to a CVS in her local target to begin the two-dose course of the Moderna vaccine, which she said was more effective than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Boehm said the pharmacist did not ask about his vaccine history.
âThey didn’t ask and I didn’t say anything,â she said.
Research shows that the three vaccines – Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna – are highly protective against serious illness, hospitalizations and death from the virus, and that boosters may only be needed for a subset of the population – a matter of heated debate among experts advising federal officials on their vaccination protocols.
But research also shows that months later, all three vaccines are a little less effective than they were when they were first given to people, some doctors. recommend specifically boosters for those who soon received injections from Johnson & Johnson.
In Minnesota, Less than 1% of vaccinated people contracted COVID after vaccination, and a tiny fraction of them were hospitalized or died.
Boehm has reviewed this research, including new that other countries advise recipients of single-dose vaccines similar to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to follow up with a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and felt that another round would only help her and those around her.
“I am not a scientist, but I am a strong believer in science. And the fact that the science was clear enough was enough for me,” she said.
What the data says
Minnesota Department of Health director of infectious diseases Kris Ehresmann has warned of failing to follow federal guidelines on booster shots.
âWe don’t have the science to suggest it will benefit them, and we don’t have data to suggest it’s safe for them,â she said.
Ehresmann said it’s important that people who need reminders get them at the right time. And it is not known whether it is safe to mix brands of vaccines.
Additionally, Ehresmann says pharmacists giving extra injections to people who are not eligible to get them risk losing their licenses because they signed a contract with the state to administer the vaccines appropriately.
She added that stepping outside federal guidelines risked eroding the integrity of the scientific process behind vaccines.
âWe have people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t trust the data, and I’m not going to get it.’ And then we have people who say, ‘You don’t give me enough of these vaccines, and you don’t give them to me quickly enough,’ she said. “We come back to the same message: we are looking at the science, and we are looking at the data and our recommendations are based on that.”
Soon, Ehresmann said, federal officials will also be looking at boosters for the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson shots.