The Utah Department of Health is now recommending high-risk individuals get a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“Booster doses can prevent further hospitalizations and death for those individuals who are at highest risk for severe illness from COVID-19. ... Most Utahns do not need a booster at this time, but a booster can help add another layer of protection to those people at the highest risk of severe COVID-19,” Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist, said in a press release.

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According to the health department, the following people are eligible:

  • People age 65 and older.
  • People who live in a long-term care facility.
  • People 18 and older with underlying medical conditions, including chronic lung diseases, cancer, diabetes or kidney disease.
  • People who live or work in a setting that puts them at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, like health care workers or teachers.

Booster shots are available through health care providers, pharmacies and other places where Utahns received their first two doses. In some instances the county and regional health departments are offering the third dose, although most Utahns now get the shot at pharmacies with the closure of the state’s mass COVID-19 vaccination sites.

The shots should be administered at least six months after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Due to a lack of available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration, the department has not approved booster shots for the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The state is still gauging how much interest Utahns have in getting COVID-19 booster shots, said Rich Lakin, immunizations director for the state health department.

“We don’t have a sense of what the demand is yet. We know that with local health departments, they’ve noticed the demand has increased, but we don’t know specifically the other partners, like the pharmacies, private physicians, etc., clinics, how much that has increased,” he said.

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At the start of the week, there were about 203,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on hand in Utah, Lakin said.

“It won’t last long,” he said. “We’ll have people probably putting in orders this week just so they won’t run out in a couple weeks.”

Lakin said the state’s stockpile should all be able to be used before it expires. It’s been weeks since the state has had to request additional coronavirus vaccines from the federal government.

While the state can handle up to about 90,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a week using all three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson — it’s been months since that limit has been reached. Just over 52% of all Utahns are fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose.

The state health department is not publicly tracking the number of COVID-19 booster doses administered in the state, at least not yet, spokesman Tom Hudachko said.

“We don’t have a good way to get at boosters right now. We can manually look at ‘third doses’ but we aren’t sure how reliable the data are and we don’t have any insight into why the dose was administered,” Hudachko said.

The state is trying to figure out how to incorporate that information into the data available to the public via, he said, but for now, the booster doses are not appearing. 

On Monday, President Joe Biden became one of over 400,000 Americans who recently got their third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients.

Roughly 2.8 million Americans have already received their booster shot since the CDC authorized the third dose in August. Zients told reporters on Tuesday that over 1 million Americans are scheduled to get their third dose in the coming days.