Billings pharmacist sees more activity after 2nd COVID booster shot approved

BILLINGS — The second COVID-19 vaccine booster was approved by the FDA and CDC earlier this week, and at least one Billings pharmacist said it was leading to increased vaccination.

“We saw a fivefold increase in the number of patients receiving their COVID booster,” Kyle Austin, owner of Pharm 406, said Friday.

To be eligible for the second booster, you must be at least 50 years old or be moderately or severely immunocompromised.

According to Dr. Neil Ku, an infectious disease specialist at the Billings Clinic, the number of new cases in the state is falling.

“The number of new cases identified in Montana and Yellowstone County has dropped significantly,” Ku said.

He says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is now in the single digits and fewer people are getting vaccinated.

“The vaccination rate, the number of doses that were given has gone down significantly,” Ku said.

Across town at Pharm 406, Austin said he’s been seeing signs that may be changing over the past week.

Austin says since the second booster was approved three days ago, his pharmacy has been busy.

“We actually saw all ages, so if you’re immunocompromised from age 12, you can actually get that fourth dose,” Austin said.

Corky Schmeling didn’t wait to get his second recall and fourth shot overall.

“I read it in the paper, and I’m like, I’m there,” Schmeling told Pharm 406 on Friday.

She is over 50 and not immunocompromised but wants to stay that way.

“I have a great life and I’m active, and I don’t want anything to get in the way,” Schmeling said.

Some things have changed since the last time you received your vaccine, such as the vaccines you can receive.

“Booster doses are still the mRNA vaccine, so the Pfizer and Moderna. We really don’t advocate using the Johnson and Johnson product as a booster dose,” Ku said.

Austin said he didn’t recommend mixing and matching doses, but added that it’s not dangerous.

“We encourage people to stick with the same streak they’ve had,” Austin said.

He and Ku think COVID vaccines are probably here to stay.

“It will be very similar to influenza and other seasonal respiratory viruses,” Ku said.

The vaccine will probably be part of the annual vaccinations.

“We’ll probably see an annual vaccine coming this fall with the flu shot,” Austin said.

Unfortunately, the side effects of the second booster are the same as those of the previous vaccines. If you’re lucky like Schemling, you might not.

“But even if there was, I wouldn’t pass up the chance for that other encore,” Schemling said.

As for where to get them, they are available at any pharmacy if you are eligible. Pharm 406 will travel across the state with its mobile vaccination clinic.

“Our mobile vaccination clinic, we take everything with us. So if anybody wants a first dose, a second dose, they can get that from us as well,” Austin said.

It will also perform the second reminder for those who are eligible.

“We also have pediatric Pfizer with us, so if you want to take your kids out, get their first or second dose, they can do that too,” Austin said.

He urges communities to call Pharm 406 if there is a need for vaccines in their town.

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