Mississippi health leaders recommend COVID-19 booster shots for high-risk groups

JACKSON, Miss. — The new Delta variant is causing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to spike in Mississippi.

This variant is particularly dangerous for people who are immunocompromised even if they are fully vaccinated.

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On Friday, the Mississippi Department of Health asked for people labeled as high risk to get a booster shot.

Dr. Manoj Jain said people with weak immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness or death, so it’s important to get the extra dose.

“There is so much infection, so much variant, the delta variant in the region that there is no question we are going to be exposed to the virus,” said Dr. Jain, an infectious disease specialist who works at Baptist East and Desoto Hospitals.

He is also a member of the COVID-19 task force.

He said data shows only one in three people are vaccinated in Mississippi, which is a huge problem.

“Several have died today on our service and it’s been really sad because they are really young. Those in their 40s and 50s, sadly, none of them were vaccinated,” said Dr. Jain.

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The MSDH issued new guidelines recommending a booster vaccine for people who are immunocompromised due to health conditions like cancer, advanced HIV, or patients who received transplants.

This comes as the Department of Health reports 35 vaccine breakthrough deaths. It said 58 percent of the deaths were people with underlying health conditions.

“Those illnesses and deaths are predominately among those individuals that who have a weak immune system, to begin with, and might not have mounted a good enough immune response with the vaccine,” said Dr. Jain.

Jain emphasized that more people need to get vaccinated to avoid more mutations.

He said Mississippians need to do this in order to avoid severe infection or even worse, death.

“The virus needs people to infect, if you are vaccinated the virus has nowhere to go,” said Dr. Jain.

“In Mississippi, it is having a free for all because the virus sees so many people who are vulnerable.”

Dr. Jain wants to emphasize about five percent of the population is immunocompromised, so no one else needs to be worried about getting a booster shot yet.

The Department of Health guidelines suggests waiting 4 to 6 weeks after your second shot before getting the booster.

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State Epidemiologist Paul Byers sent a letter to physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers Friday advising they consider a third dose or booster COVID-19 vaccine for people with immunocompromising conditions.

Those conditions include the following:

  • Conditions and treatments associated with moderate to severe immune compromise
  • Active or recent treatment for solid tumor or hematologic malignancies
  • Receipt of solid-organ or recent hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • Severe primary immunodeficiency
  • Advanced or untreated HIV
  • Treatment with immunosuppressive medications such as cancer chemotherapeutic agents, TNF blockers, certain biologic agents (e.g., rituximab), and high-dose corticosteroids
  • Chronic conditions associated with varying degrees of immune deficit, such as asplenia or chronic renal disease.
  • Other underlying medical conditions and treatments that may lead to immunosuppression based on the physician or clinical team assessment.

“As transmission has increased in the state, deaths in fully vaccinated individuals have been increasingly identified. Since April 1, 2021, more than 35 vaccine breakthrough deaths have been confirmed,” he said.

Byers recommended waiting at least 4 weeks after the final dose in the original vaccine before getting a booster dose. He also recommended getting the same manufacturer for the booster or third dose if the original vaccine was Pfizer or Moderna. However, if the original vaccine was Johnson and Johnson, the recommendation is to consider utilizing Pfizer mRNA vaccine as the booster vaccine.