Continuing nine consecutive months providing COVID-19 vaccinations, St. Bernards Healthcare announced Friday it has begun offering free COVID-19 booster shots to individuals meeting select criteria.
St. Bernards’ announcement comes on the heels of a CDC recommendation and consultations with the Arkansas Department of Health for booster vaccinations to persons who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination series at least six months ago. The recommendation includes populations aged 65 and older, residents in long-term care settings and persons aged 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. In addition, the CDC included an option for boosters to individuals aged 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions as well as those aged 18 to 64 who have an increased risk of virus exposure and transmission because of work or institutional settings.
With current COVID transmissions attributed largely to the Delta variant, St. Bernards Vice President of Ancillary Services LeAnn Morrow described the booster recommendation as a welcomed announcement.
“COVID vaccines have helped keep our hospitalization numbers from going even higher,” Morrow said. “We only have to look at those numbers plummeting in the spring after vaccination numbers grew.”
Moving into the summer, however, low vaccination rates globally and within certain regions of the U.S. allowed the virus to mutate, most notably with the Delta variant.
“Delta has changed how we approach COVID, and we want to protect our most at-risk populations from its impacts.” Morrow said. “We believe a booster dose will go far in protecting these individuals who received their last COVID immunization anywhere from six to nine months ago.”
Kasey Holder, M.D., St. Bernards Medical Center Vice President of Medical Affairs, added that the need for a booster vaccination differs from individuals receiving an mRNA vaccine third dose. She said St. Bernards has provided third doses to the community for more than a month.
“Third doses of the mRNA vaccines went to select immunocompromised persons who likely had an insufficient immune response from the previous two doses,” Dr. Holder said. “Booster shots, on the other hand, are given to individuals who did have an adequate immune response from the first two doses, but their immunity has waned over time. Our goal is to ensure people receiving third doses and booster doses have an appropriate level of protection from COVID.”
St. Bernards plans to administer Pfizer vaccine booster doses at its Auditorium, located at 505 East Washington Avenue in Jonesboro, to accommodate social distancing needs. To date, it has administered more than 36,400 across multiple facilities and clinics.
For more information on the COVID-19 booster and to sign-up for an appointment, visit https://www.stbernards.info/COVID-19 and click the “COVID Booster Dose” box located under “How do I get the COVID-19 Vaccine?” St. Bernards also operates a COVID hotline, which can be reached at (870) 351-7171.