Plenty of booster shots out there, but scarce appointments?

MA residents finding some sites booked, but options abound

BOSTON — Thanksgiving is barely a week away. And that seems to have set off a rush for COVID-19 booster shots. The result: at some vaccination locations, immediate appointments are hard to come by.

“We’ve definitely seen a spike in demand, and having the addition of the pediatric doses we’re seeing an increase in demand of that as well,” said pharmacist Alex Doyle.

Doyle runs Conley’s Drug Store in Ipswich when he’s not running vaccination clinics, such as the one Tuesday evening at the Newbury Elementary School, expected to draw up to a hundred booster-seekers, as well as a couple of hundred pediatric patients.

Doyle’s clinic is one of many efforts to make booster shots readily available. Which the state says, they are. The Department of Public Health said, so far, 800,000 Massachusetts residents have gotten a booster. For those that haven’t, the state runs four booster vaccination sites -- in Brockton, Danvers, Lowell and Springfield -- that show thousands of open appointments. And there are more than a thousand other booster sites, many of them drug stores.

And yet some have complained to Boston 25 News appointments are tight. It turns out that may be a factor of where you want to get immunized and when. For example, we found some CVS locations fully booked for the next several days but others, in the same vicinity, wide open.

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For its part, CVS tells Boston 25 it continues to get booster dose shipments in and there is no shortage of vaccines. But there may be a shortage of appointments. Many stores seemed able to book no more than four appointments per hour. That does not surprise Doyle.

“Some of the larger chains continue to have staffing issues,” he said. “There’s only so much that one pharmacist can do when they’re checking prescriptions, counseling patients and expected to do shots on top of that.”

And COVID-19 shots are not the only ones the pharmacist might be administering. CVS offers flu shots as well as shingles vaccinations. And there’s one other issue at the chain pharmacies that may lead some to believe booster shots are hard to come by.

“Some of the stores may only have one of the brands,” Doyle said.

“CDC does allow people to mix and match, so they can choose any of the brands for their booster dose. But we’ve seen more consistently people sticking with what they got the first time.”

One overlooked option, Doyle said: independent drug stores, which commonly carry all the vaccine brands and usually can vaccinate on request.

And if you do end up unboostered over the holidays, Doyle said don’t panic.

“We still have some immunity,” he said. “Be patient and still continue to have other safe practices: mask-wearing, social distancing. Be very mindful around the holidays with these gatherings.”

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