BILLINGS — The second COVID-19 vaccine booster was approved by the FDA and CDC earlier this week, and at least one Billings pharmacist says that's leading to an uptick in vaccination.
“We’ve seen about a five-fold increase in patients getting their COVID booster,” said Kyle Austin, owner of Pharm 406, on Friday.
To be eligible for the second booster, you must either be at least 50 years and older or be moderately or severely immunocompromised.
According to Dr. Neil Ku, infectious disease specialist at Billings Clinic, the number of new cases in the state is going down.
“The number of new cases identified in Montana and in Yellowstone County has significantly dropped,” Ku said.
He says the number of those hospitalized from COVID-19 is now down to single digits, and fewer people are getting vaccinated.
“The rate of vaccination, the number of doses that have been administered has significantly dropped,” Ku said.
Across town at Pharm 406, Austin said he's seeing signs that may be changing over this past week.
Austin says that since the second booster was approved three days ago, his pharmacy has been busy.
“We’ve seen actually all ages, so if you’re immunocompromised 12 and up, you can actually get that fourth dose,” Austin said.
Corky Schmeling didn’t wait to get her second booster, and fourth shot overall.
“I read it in the paper, and I’m like, I’m there,” Schmeling said at Pharm 406 Friday.
She’s over 50 and not immunocompromised but wants to stay that way.
“I have a great life and I’m active, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of that,” Schmeling said.
A few things have changed since the last time you may have gotten your vaccine, such as which vaccines you can get.
“Booster doses still remain the mRNA vaccine, so the Pfizer and Moderna. We’re really not advocating the use of the Johnson and Johnson product as a booster dose,” Ku said.
Austin said he doesn’t recommend mixing and matching doses but added doing so isn't dangerous.
“We’re encouraging people to stay with the same series they’ve had,” Austin said.
Both he and Ku believe COVID vaccines are likely here to stay.
“This will be very similar to influenza and other seasonal respiratory viruses,” Ku said.
The vaccine will likely become a part of annual vaccinations.
“We’ll probably see an annual shot come around this fall with the flu shot,” Austin said.
Unfortunately, the side effects of the second booster are the same as previous vaccines. If you’re lucky like Schemling, you might not have any.
“But even if there were, I wouldn’t pass up the chance for this other booster,” said Schemling.
As for where to get them, they’re available at any pharmacy if you’re eligible. Pharm 406 will be traveling across the state with its mobile vaccine clinic.
“Our mobile vaccine clinic, we take everything with us. So, if someone wants a first dose, second dose, they can get that from us as well,” Austin said.
It will also carry the second booster shot for those who are eligible.
“We also carry pediatric Pfizer with us so if you want to bring your kids out, get their first or second dose, they can do that as well,” said Austin.
He urges communities to call Pharm 406 if there’s a need for vaccines in their town.