BISMARCK — Accessibility to COVID-19 booster shots will further balloon to thousands of North Dakotans after federal authorities authorized additional doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Thursday, Oct. 21.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed booster doses for certain groups who received a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago and for people 18 and over who were inoculated with a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago. Last month, authorities gave the green light for a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and as of Thursday, nearly 35,000 North Dakotans have been vaccinated with a Pfizer booster, said Molly Howell, state immunization manager.

Like those who are eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, people who qualify for a Moderna booster include people over 65, people ages 18 through 64 who are high-risk because of medical conditions, or if their occupation puts them at a chance of coronavirus exposure.

Johnson & Johnson boosters are available for individuals 18 and older who received their shot at least two months ago.

The Food and Drug Administration, along with the CDC, also endorsed a “mix and match” strategy for administering booster doses, meaning people may get a different COVID-19 vaccine booster from the kind they originally received. The CDC approved a "mix-and-match" strategy of the COVID-19 booster doses in the event that some vaccines are not available or if a person prefers a different one. This also gives health care providers greater flexibility in administering boosters.

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The CDC anticipates to release guidance about choosing one booster over another next week, according to The Washington Post. Health experts are still debating recommending people stick to their original vaccine, The Post reported.

"Mix-and-match" only applies to receiving a booster dose. People should receive the same vaccine to complete their primary vaccination series.

A booster dose gives a person additional protection against COVID-19, as the immunity they built after their initial vaccination may have decreased over time, according to the CDC.

These recent approvals on a federal level mean thousands more North Dakotans are eligible for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters.

Specifically, more than 27,000 North Dakotans are eligible for the Johnson & Johnson booster, Howell said.

The number of residents for the Moderna vaccine is difficult to estimate, Howell said, but there are more than 100,000 North Dakotans who are 18 and older who completed their vaccine series more than six months ago. An additional 41,000, who are 65 years of age and older, also qualify for a Moderna booster dose, Howell said.

Health care providers may provide boosters as early as Friday, Oct. 22, but it is unclear as of Thursday evening which North Dakota providers will accept appointments for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters.

The following people may receive a Moderna and Pfizer booster dose, according to the CDC:

  • Ages 65 and older who completed their vaccine series at least six months ago
  • Ages 18 through 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19 who completed their vaccine series at least six months ago
  • Ages 18 through 64 with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19 who completed their vaccine series at least six months ago

The following people should receive a Johnson & Johnson booster dose, according to the CDC:

  • Ages 18 and older who received their shot at least two months ago

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.