By JoAnn Weaver

The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) data suggested that more than 140,000 children under age 18 in the United States lost a grandparent caregiver who provided the child’s basic needs, including love, security, and daily care from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

In this study, approximately 1 out of 500 children in the United States are reported to have experienced COVID-19-associated orphanhood or death of a grandparent caregiver.

After several weeks of careful study, discussion and review of recommendations by the FDA and CDC, the head of the CDC last week announced the final decision on Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosters, which will work to mitigate this crisis.

Dr. Clay Dunagan, chief medical officer at BJC HealthCare and Washington University and infectious disease specialist, talked about how individuals of the age 65 and older, especially those living in nursing homes, should receive the booster shot.

“For those over the age of 65, immunity might wane faster, and they might have less resistance to disease, so the concern is they could have a serious breakthrough case that could cause severe harm,” Dunagan said. 

Since the boosters are for people already protected by their initial vaccine doses, the CDC recommendation allows for personal risk assessment in some of the groups identified for boosters.

Individuals age 50-64 with an underlying medical condition that puts them at increased risk of severe illness should receive a booster.

“In long term care facilities, there is a substantial risk of exposure, plus people in these facilities typically have some other condition that could put them at risk,” Dunagan said.

Individuals 18 to 49 years of age with an underlying condition that puts them at increased risk of severe illness may receive a booster, based on their personal risk assessment. 

With regards to research, Dunagan talked about the benefits of the booster shot and what is known about its effects so far. 

“I think there is still research being collected but there is no question that a booster shot makes you more resistant to infection,” Dunagan said. “I think it is clear that no matter what has happened before whether you have been vaccinated or had COVID and got vaccinated, the booster will boost your immune system and make it stronger, so antibody levels are higher and protection from the disease goes up.”

One popular question has been where people could get the booster shot in the St. Louis area. Dunagan says it should be offered where COVID-19 vaccines are available. 

“All of the healthcare systems are offering clinics where you can get the vaccine. Many pharmacies are also offering the booster shot,” Dunagan said.

The CDC recommendations for the booster shot apply specifically to those who are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine if it has been more than six months since their second dose. Boosters have been reported to extend immunity after the initial shots’ potency starts to decrease over time.