BISMARCK — North Dakota health care providers will likely begin administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster doses next week, but some people could receive a third dose as early as this weekend, the state Department of Health said Friday, Sept. 24.

In a virtual press briefing Friday, officials announced that boosters will be available statewide for adults 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, adults with underlying conditions and front-line workers. Only people who completed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine series at least six months ago qualify for a third dose.

The vast majority of North Dakota providers will likely start giving boosters late next week, as protocols need to be updated, but a few could start this weekend, said Molly Howell, North Dakota's immunization manager.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made a similar announcement Friday, saying the state is beginning to administer Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots to eligible Minnesotans.

A booster dose gives a person additional protection against COVID-19, as the protection they built after their initial vaccination may have decreased over time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"With the Delta variant’s dominance as the circulating strain and cases of COVID-19 increasing significantly across the United States, a booster shot will help strengthen protection against severe disease in those populations who are at high-risk for exposure to COVID-19 or the complications from severe disease," the CDC said in a statement.

Earlier this week, a CDC advisory panel recommended boosters for adults 65 and older, people in long-term care settings and those with underlying conditions. But early Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruled her own advisors and expanded the recommendation to include boosters for front-line workers in jobs with a high risk of virus transmission.

This expansion aligns with the Food and Drug Administration's authorization of boosters for adults in high-risk occupations.

At this time, boosters are only approved for people who completed the Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine series at least six months ago. The CDC is still analyzing the efficacy of boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and their authorizations may come in the coming days or weeks, according to The New York Times.

The federal government told North Dakota there are "more than enough" doses to give to those who qualify for a third shot, Howell said.

Howell added that in order to receive a booster, a person doesn't need to provide proof that they work in a front-line position or have an underlying health condition.

The recommendation of booster shots for certain individuals comes as the U.S. is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. On Friday, North Dakota had more than 3,600 active COVID-19 cases — the most since December.

Even though the boosters will be available, Howell said the state will still be prioritizing getting the unvaccinated inoculated.

"The No. 1 priority for COVID vaccination in North Dakota is getting people who have not yet been vaccinated vaccinated against COVID-19," Howell said Friday. "That is going to make the biggest positive impact on this pandemic."

The vast majority of those hospitalized in North Dakota are unvaccinated, according to the state health department.

The following people qualify for a booster dose, according to CDC guidance:

  • Ages 65 and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their Pfizer primary series.
  • Ages 50–64 with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their Pfizer primary series.
  • Ages 18–49 with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their Pfizer primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.
  • Ages 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their Pfizer primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.

North Dakotans seeking information about vaccines and boosters can visit www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator.

Minnesotans can visit mn.gov/vaccine to find a provider near them and schedule an appointment or find a walk-in clinic.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.