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'Use those resources' | Health experts pushing vaccination as Pfizer booster shots begin

Demand for the boosters hasn't been overwhelming but it is a much smaller and more specific group of people who are eligible.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Most vaccine providers in the Charlotte area started giving Pfizer booster shots to those who qualify on Monday.

RELATED: Mecklenburg County gets OK from NC officials to offer Pfizer boosters

Who is eligible for the Pfizer booster shot?

People who are 65 or older, have a medical condition that puts them at greater risk for a severe outcome from a COVID-19 infection, or work in a setting where they are more likely to be exposed to the virus, and got the Pfizer shots at least six months ago can get a third dose.

“The quote [unquote] booster that’s being given out is the same product that you would've received before, there's no difference in it,” Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said.

Locally, there has not been an overwhelming amount of demand for boosters like when the first doses were available, but this is a very specific and smaller group of people who are eligible.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department gave about 80 boosters on the first day, mainly to older people. They expect that number to continue to grow.

According to the CDC, 18- to 49-year-olds with underlying medical conditions or people who work in a setting where they could be exposed may get a boost in immunity.

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“If you're in the may [category] and not should category and have more questions, we really recommend you talk to your primary care physician or a trusted health care provider about your individual risks or benefits,” Nikki Nissen with Novant Health said.

For now, health experts say it’s necessary to focus only on those most at risk, many of who were vaccinated early on in the rollout.

“When there’s certain groups that we're seeing evidence that there might be higher risk rate of hospitalization and death or more severe disease of whatever type, then that’s when especially it becomes important for boosters to be considered,” Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health said.

Vaccinations for healthcare workers

There are no doctors' notes needed -- people just have to self-attest they're eligible. Unlike the first time most of these people were vaccinated, there is not a short supply of shots.

“There are plenty of appointments for vaccination available in different settings at Atrium and then out in the community,” Passaretti said. “Plenty of accessibility for people who want to get vaccinated so we just continue to encourage people to use those resources."

That includes employees of healthcare systems.

All of the healthcare systems in the Charlotte area are requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment.

This week, 175 Novant Health employees were let go for not getting the shots. That’s out of 35,000 total employees, and less than 1% of their staff.

“Our sacred responsibility is to make sure people are not harmed when they come into our facilities and the way we do that is to put every barrier up that would protect them,” Priest said.

Novant Health gave employees until Sept. 15 to be at least partially vaccinated. 99% of its workforce was compliant and leaders for the health system said the mandate is in place to better protect the communities they serve.

“We've been in a deadly pandemic for 19 months," Priest said. "There are 680,000 Americans who have died. We cannot contribute to that number, not a single time."

Atrium Health employees have until Oct. 31 to be fully vaccinated. Officials wouldn't share details on how much of the staff has been so far.

“We continue to advocate for vaccination for healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers to protect our community and continue to see the vast majority of severe illness is in those unvaccinated,” Passaretti said.

Health care workers in Charlotte protested against the mandates.

The hospitals were experiencing staffing shortages even before the pandemic and have only become more strained throughout. The protection vaccines offer helps keep more medical workers healthy and on the job.

“I think people think, 'Well a small number of people have left the organization so that must cause staffing issues,' but what creates worse staffing issues is when team members get COVID and are out for a long period of time,” Priest said.

Both Atrium and Novant Health released new data on hospitalizations, both say of the COVID-19 patients on ventilators right now, 98% are unvaccinated.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.