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Hartford HealthCare preparing to roll out booster shots for those deemed eligible

Hartford HealthCare is preparing to roll out boosters of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it receives guidance from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee this week on who can get a booster shot and when.

The Food and Drug Administration last week approved Pfizer booster doses only for individuals over age 65 or people who are at a high risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19, like people with heart disease or diabetes, said Eric Arlia, system director of pharmacy at Hartford HealthCare. Health care providers are waiting on CDC guidance, which is expected to come this week.

During a news conference held over Zoom on Monday, Arlia and other Hartford HealthCare staff hoped to clear up confusion about vaccine boosters. They said that vaccines have always required approval from the FDA and then guidance from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The committee is expected to review the Pfizer booster, which will be the same dose as Pfizer's first and second vaccine doses, on Wednesday and Thursday and then give guidance to health care companies.

"Once that happens, providers like HHC can start to plan how to roll that vaccination out, so we'll all be waiting," said Arlia. "We have many teams on standby, we've done a lot of pre-work to prepare for this moment, and as soon as we get the final guidance from the ACIP committee later this week we'll begin the process for those who are eligible."

Hartford HealthCare plans to use digital alerts to let patients know when they're eligible for a booster and has been keeping patients in the loop about their expected eligibility, they said.

Arlia on Monday asked people to "be patient and trust the process" as they await federal guidance.

Earlier this month, authorization was given for booster doses for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for patients with compromised immune systems. Hartford HealthCare has given out about 2,500 booster shots for those patients so far, Arlia said.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, the chief clinical officer for HHC, said that throughout the state the Hartford HealthCare system was treating 98 COVID-19 positive patients as of Monday morning — 20 of whom were at Backus Hospital in Norwich. Most of them, he said, are unvaccinated.

The majority of people who were vaccinated but still contracted COVID-19 — known as breakthrough cases — were over the age of 65 and most of them did not have symptoms of the virus, Kumar said.

"We are still seeing largely unvaccinated individuals requiring hospital care," said Kumar, who urged people to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so.

"As we navigate this pandemic, vaccinations are a very important tool for us to manage this dreadful disease," he said.



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