With low risk locally, who should be thinking about getting another COVID booster shot?
The makers of the two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the country are asking federal health agencies to review a second booster dose, but officials say most people shouldn’t be anxious about rolling up their sleeves again just yet.
Only people with compromised immune systems are currently approved for a fourth shot, with that additional shot giving them an immune response similar to healthier people who just get the standard two-dose-plus-booster regimen.
But, as COVID-19 cases are declining, the effectiveness of boosters is waning as well, with a Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention study published in February finding that this likely happens about four months after getting the shot.
While she is beyond that four-month time frame since receiving her booster, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said she isn’t seeking out another booster right now.
“I’m actually waiting to see if it is reformulated,” Smith said, meaning the vaccine would be adjusted to account for newer variants, similar to how the flu shot changes each year. “That would be more broad.”
Moderna has asked that its second booster be made available to people of all ages, while Pfizer has asked its shot be approved for those over 65.
Smith said the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would be looking at new shots in the coming weeks, but that she feels that, generally, only people over 65 or with a compromised immune system are needing that extra protection.
Unlike with other vaccines, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth Dr. Michelle Barron said officials are still learning what the threshold of an antibody response is needed for lasting protection from COVID-19.
“We don’t know what that is for COVID,” Barron said. “The other bigger piece is that your immune system is not just antibodies.”
Barron said she likens the immune system to the military, with it having multiple branches — antibodies, B cells, T cells — that each work together, but have their own functions. The response of these other branches is hard to measure, she said.
In addition to these other branches of the immune system being weaker for those over 65 and the immune compromised, Barron said these people likely never got the same antibody response from the vaccines to start with, potentially putting them at more risk for serious illness.
For people in this group, Barron said she recommends looking into getting another booster, even though it hasn’t been approved quite yet. She gave the same recommendation to her parents, who are in their 80s, not considered to have a compromised immune system and got their booster shots last fall.
“From a professional standpoint, I’ve told people this is probably where it’s heading,” Barron said. “I think the data is pretty compelling and I will be really surprised if the FDA does not recommend it for that (over 65) group.”
Barron said she anticipated a fifth shot would be approved for immune-compromised people of all ages as well.
As for generally healthy people younger than 65, Barron said they still have a robust protection from severe disease and death, even though protection against a mild infection likely has waned.
Even though she is at higher risk for the getting virus because she frequently treats COVID patients, Barron said there hasn’t seen compelling data to show people in that situation should be getting a booster shot. Barron got her booster in August, and said she doesn’t feel the need to get another right now.
This fall is when she anticipates there may need to be a booster dose that is available more broadly, and it may need to account for new variants.
“We’ve gotten to a point where I think our goal is no longer to say you’re never going to get COVID, the goal is that you’re not going to get that sick,” Barron said. “It’s still reasonable to hold tight. You probably still have enough protection to keep you out of the hospital.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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