RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health announced that Virginia will make third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available to those who are immunocompromised.
Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines will be available to those who are moderately and severely immunocompromised as of Saturday.
"For people who have some of these underlying conditions, this is your best chance to protect yourself from hospitalization or worse," said Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia's Vaccination Coordinator.
The move comes after the CDC updated its vaccination guidelines to recommend third doses for those who have significantly compromised immune systems.
“This is important additional protection for people who have impaired immune systems,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver. “As COVID-19 cases rise across Virginia and the country, everyone who is eligible should get appropriately vaccinated as soon as they can.”
The CDC's move is the final step in the authorization process for third doses of the vaccines for some eligible populations.
Those in immunocompromised populations who have already received two doses should wait at least 28 days before receiving their third dose.
If possible, the third dose should be the same manufacturer as the previous two doses but it isn't required.
"If it's not available at their provider, then it is, it's okay to switch brands for the third dose," said Dr. Avula.
But Avula said those who initially got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should hold off from getting a third dose for now.
"There currently isn't a recommendation, yet, for those who may fall into this category who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine," Dr. Avula said.
He said those eligible for the third dose could receive it through the same pathways as the first two, whether that be a healthcare provider, a pharmacy or by going to vaccinate.virginia.gov. to find a provider in your area.
Third doses would be administered on an honor system and patients would not need a doctor’s note, but Dr. Avula recommended those seeking a third dose speak with their healthcare providers ahead of time to see if they qualify.
"We estimate it will probably be somewhere around 125,000 Virginians who are eligible for this," said Dr. Avula. "And there is definitely no shortage of vaccine. There's plenty of supply and plenty of providers."
Dr. John McCarty, Medical Director of the Cellular Immune Therapy and Transplant Program at VCU Massey Cancer Center, worked with immunocompromised patients on a regular basis.
"Vulnerable people live within Virginia. And they live among us. And they're more than we may understand," said Dr. McCarty.
He added that this recommendation didn't insinuate that vaccines were less effective for everyone.
"The 94 to 95 percent effective vaccination rate was for a healthy person who has never walked the cancer journey," Dr. McCarty said.
He said these kinds of patients may have not developed as robust of an immune response to the first two doses as a healthy person would, which is why he is thankful that constant research and new information are helping doctors deliver the best possible care.
"What I'm happy about is to see that this has been looked at it's been studied, it's being monitored, that we're not just checking the box that I got the vaccine, but we're actually following to make sure that the vaccine is effective, protective, and that we're doing our due diligence to make sure that people remain safe," Dr. McCarty said.
Those wondering if they qualify for a third dose can go to the CDC website for a list of qualifying conditions.
Dr. Avula said not all qualifying conditions may be listed so those with questions should speak with their healthcare providers.