California medical providers prepare to administer COVID boosters to newly-eligible group

In just a matter of days a new round of COVID-19 vaccinations could be underway, as the federal government greenlights booster shots. Now, medical providers are gearing up to administer the shots. 

The Food and Drug Administration and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given the go-ahead for Pfizer booster shots. With the CDC director's approval, the race to vaccinate is entering a new phase, as shots could start going into arms as soon as Friday.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday. The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. 

The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot. 

However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected. 

The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus. 

But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with a FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week.

"The CDC recommendations particularly around immunizations generally trump everything else because they give guidance," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF. "It's a recommendation but historically speaking, public health jurisdictions which are local, usually follow CDC guidance."

Right now only the Pfizer vaccine has been cleared as a booster.

San Francisco is one of the cities were a supplemental Pfizer dose is already being used for patients who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Medical providers are gearing up for a potential surge in vaccinations. "At UCSF for example, they've been gearing up for a long time to immunize health care workers again, with a third shot in the event that this gained approval," said Dr. Chin-Hong. "So, I would imagine that very soon after the announcement people can go out and start getting it."

San Francisco's Department of Public Health also says it's ready to accommodate any surge in vaccine demand. 

At one time the city and county operated numerous mass vaccination sites. As the number of people receiving the vaccine increased the city was able to close many centers, instead using a distributed network of vaccine providers to make it easy for anyone looking for vaccine. 

"The main takeaway is the same infrastructure, access point and strategies that have enabled San Francisco to achieve one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world continue to be in place and we're ready to continue to serve," said vaccine executive sponsor for San Francisco Dept. of Public Health, Baljeet S. Sangha.

Dr. Chin-Hong says the booster shot will likely work well for those who received Pfizer and those who received Johnson & Johnson.

He also says the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine work in similar ways, so people who received Moderna could receive the Pfizer booster, however there is currently less medical evidence for how well it works for those who received Moderna first.

Patients should consult with medical professionals to make sure they're getting the best advice available before they make a decision. 

Associated Press contributed to this report.