Booster shot back-and-forth creates uncertainty, confusion


Many people are confused — patients and healthcare providers alike — in the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcements about who is authorized to get a third or ‘booster’ shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The official word on boosters from the CDC in the early morning hours of September 24 sparked a jump in people calling about or coming in for a third shot, healthcare providers report. At the same time, the uncertainty from changing federal messages about boosters is causing some chaos, especially in the form of vaccine misinformation.

The confusion started, in part, with the August 13 announcement that immunocompromised Americans were eligible for a booster shot. Next came the initial Biden administration intention to provide most U.S. adults with a third shot starting September 20 — an announcement later rolled back — followed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) limiting boosters to select groups last week.

“It was only 3% of the population that was going to be getting a third dose, then it was back to everyone being able to get the booster, and then it’s back to a select crew,” Louito Edje, MD, a family physician in private practice in Cincinnati, said in an interview with this news organization.

This kind of mixed messaging is generating more questions than answers.

“Even though that is following the science, translating the science into policy, it’s really fraught with confusion for patients, especially,” added Dr. Edje, professor educator in the departments of medical education and family and community medicine at UC Health and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

When asked if he’s seeing more uncertainty about boosters, community pharmacist Brian Caswell, RPh, said: “I’m going to have to say yes because I’ve been confused myself at times.”

“Yes, there is a lot of confusion,” added Mr. Caswell, owner or co-owner of four pharmacies in Kansas and Missouri and president of the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Boosting misinformation?

“Unfortunately, confusion leads to an acceleration of misinformation,” Mr. Caswell said.

Dr. Edje shared an example. “The folks who have been hesitant to even get the first vaccine appear now a little less likely to want to go ahead and get vaccinated.”

These patients point to breakthrough COVID-19 cases of the Delta variant, which “reinforces that they don’t need to get vaccinated in the first place,” Dr. Edje said.

“That’s unfortunate because it’s a complete fallacy.”

Clearer communication from the federal government could help alleviate confusion, Mr. Caswell said. “I would like to see an official CDC chart that states who is eligible as of a certain date. Something that is accessible through their webpage or a social media source that can be updated. That would help all of us.”

“For myself, I’ve got patients from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri that might be operating under different guidelines. That makes it even more confusing,” he said.

More clarity is needed for individuals seeking boosters as well. “It would help to be very clear with the general public, who are becoming very knowledgeable within this vaccine realm,” Mr. Caswell said.


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