Wisconsin DHS says vaccinators will be ready to administer Pfizer boosters following federal approval

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The head of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said once federal approval comes for Pfizer booster shots, vaccinators across the state will be ready.

Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake made these comments on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 22, ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authorization of boosters for people who are 65 and older and those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

A panel of CDC experts met Wednesday and will meet again Thursday to consider whether to recommend boosters and who should be eligible.

On Friday, an FDA advisory committee recommended a Pfizer booster for Americans who are at high risk and people 65 and older. The panel overwhelmingly rejected a plan to authorize boosters for all Americans who are at least 16 years old.

The AARP is once again fielding many calls about vaccines, as it did about six months ago. This time the calls are about boosters.

"People (are) really trying to understand: So when is it I'm supposed to go get my booster and when is it my turn? So we're trying to answer those questions the best we can, while at the same time watching the same news reports as everyone else," said Sam Wilson, state director for AARP Wisconsin.

Wilson said he is keeping a close watch on the federal government's recommendations. Once the booster rollout begins, he said AARP Wisconsin hopes to see a place where people can easily sign up for shots. He also wants to see hard-to-reach people prioritized, such as people who are homebound or in long-term care facilities.

He cited data showing that 96 percent of the deaths in Wisconsin from COVID-19 are among people who are at least 50 years old.

"It took an extraordinary effort to make sure all those folks got vaccinated. It's going to take an extraordinary effort again and a lot of planning," Wilson said.

One recommendation CDC advisers must make is who will fall into the "high-risk" category.

"The group that is at highest risk of bad outcomes if vaccine immunity is waning is people with clinical conditions and immunocompromised, and age is a proxy for those things. Not everyone who is 65 and older is going to have medical conditions, but many people do," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director for infection prevention at UW Health.

Timberlake said the state is working with hospitals, pharmacies and health departments to get a plan in place for administering boosters.

"We are going to need to pay careful attention to who is in fact really recommended for that booster dose and make sure that we can prioritize those populations," Timberlake said.

She said vaccinating the unvaccinated continues to be a top priority for the state.

"As we have all along, we're going to have to do multiple things at the same time here," Timberlake said.

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