Mississippi, with one of the highest new Covid-19 case rates and lowest rates of vaccinated people in the U.S., is encouraging booster doses for some high-risk groups.
The Mississippi State Department of Health is now advising that doctors consider a booster or third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, including organ transplant patients and people taking immunosuppressive medications.
“We have provided guidance to providers and physicians throughout the state to assess their patients who may be immunocompromised to administer a third dose,” Dr. Paul Byers, a physician with the State Department of Health said during a news briefing Wednesday. “If individuals are concerned they fall into those categories, we recommend they speak to their primary care physician to determine the need for a booster vaccine.”
The guidance recommends waiting at least four weeks after full vaccination before to receiving a booster dose. For people who got two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines, an additional dose of the same vaccine is recommended. However, if the original vaccination was the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, a booster dose with an mRNA vaccine is recommended, according to the state's health officials.
The decision comes as the state is facing a critical shortage of intensive care unit beds with only six available statewide. There are also currently 134 active outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Mississippi.
Only 35 percent of Mississippi’s population is fully vaccinated.
There have been increasing calls by experts to allow people with weakened immune systems to receive an additional dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Israel has begun offering third doses of the Pfizer vaccine to people at high risk of severe disease, and several European countries, including Germany and France, have said they will offer boosters to their vulnerable populations.
In July, a vaccine advisory group with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged federal regulators to move quickly in determining whether people with weakened immune systems should receive an additional dose of a vaccine. Neither the CDC nor the Food and Drug Administration recommends booster shots, including those who have weak immune systems.
"While immunocompromised people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and early data show some potential benefit to administering an additional dose, more evidence is needed to determine safety and effectiveness in this population," the CDC said in a statement to NBC News. "The CDC and FDA are exploring multiple options for how to make a third dose possible for the immunocompromised if needed."
Immunocompromised people — including those with rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, lupus and some cancer patients — make up approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population. Early data suggests that, compared with healthy adults, people with weak immunity are less protected against the virus after vaccination. But among people who had no response to an initial mRNA vaccine series, up to 50 percent developed antibodies after a third dose.
“Immunocompromised individuals are vulnerable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government's top public health experts, said during the White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing Thursday, speaking about when federal health officials will advise boosters for people at high risk. “We are working on that and will make that be implemented as quickly as possible.”