Person wearing PPE receives COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Cruz County on Jan. 12, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2021

CDC poised to expand COVID booster shots. What does that look like in Santa Cruz?

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the types of COVID booster shots it recommends for Americans, making tens of millions more eligible. Locally, health care providers say they are preparing for the expected spike in demand.

Federal regulators unanimously approved the administration of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters Thursday for tens of millions of Americans due to age, health status or workplace realities, as well as the mixing and matching of vaccines, following a similar approval Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control approved a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for adults 65 and older — as well as for younger adults at high risk for COVID or or those with jobs at greater risk of exposure — last month.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the most recent recommendation later that evening, meaning tens of thousands of people locally could be eligible within a day or two.

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Santa Cruz County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said residents would have to visit their medical provider or other vaccination clinics like CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens to receive a booster dose. The county does not plan to set up mass clinics to administer doses like it did last spring for COVID vaccinations, but is ready to help local health providers if needed.

“[Residents] can go to their medical provider or they can go into the pharmacy and they can get a booster,” Hoppin said. “Once they’re eligible, any of those things work, but we’re just where we don’t think we have to build actual capacity to handle the demand.”

The number of Americans believed to be eligible for boosters under new CDC guidelines.
The number of Americans believed to be eligible for boosters under new CDC guidelines.
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Corinne Hyland, the spokesperson for Santa Cruz Community Health, said the department is working with local health care providers to ensure they have access to enough vaccines and accurate and timely information. She added that the agency will continue to provide boosters at the Watsonville Health Center and through county vaccine strike team efforts to reach both residential care facilities and individuals who are homebound.

As of Monday, 71.4% of the county’s total population had received at least one dose, with 66.5% fully vaccinated. That total population figure includes children under 12, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine — although that could change soon.

Now those initially vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer can get a third shot of either vaccine — regardless of the initial regimen — six months after the completion of the first doses. As before, however, it will be limited to those 65 and older as well as younger adults with underlying conditions or in an occupation with frequent exposure.

The CDC committee also recommended that every person vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson shot receive a second dose two months after the initial one.

“As the pandemic continues to impact the country, science has shown that vaccination continues to be the safest and most effective way to prevent COVID-19, including the most serious consequences of the disease, such as hospitalization and death,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a news release.

Santa Cruz County health providers


Two of Santa Cruz County’s major health providers — Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health — said they are preparing for a spike in demand for boosters. Calls to Dignity Health, another major local provider, were not returned.

“We’re staying abreast of the ongoing discussions around Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters, and preparing our infrastructure to accommodate the needs of our patients and communities,” Sutter Health spokesperson Emma Dugas wrote in an email.

Kaiser Permanente shared similar sentiments.

“As soon as possible after the CDC issues updated clinical recommendations, Kaiser Permanente will begin administering Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots to the identified populations,” spokesperson Karl Sonkin said via email.

Both Dugas and Sonkin declined to answer questions regarding whether their current supplies of vaccines is sufficient for the expected demand.

Although authorized by the FDA and recommended by the CDC, people do not need a booster dose to be considered fully vaccinated. Those who are receiving a booster dose should bring their COVID-19 vaccine card to their appointment.

For more information

Kaiser:
Call 866-454-8855 or schedule online.
Non-Kaiser patients could still be eligible and can schedule online.

Sutter Health:
Call 844-987-6115 or schedule online.

Dignity Health:
Dignity Health patients can call 831-288-6526 or visit online for more information.

CVS Pharmacy:
Schedule online

Wallgreens:
Schedule online


UPDATE: This story was updated to reflect the fact that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky formally signed off on the committee’s recommendation Thursday evening.