The buzz around the subject of booster shots and how it helps to protect the inoculated against Covid-19 have been loud enough to have public-health experts say you probably will need one soon. Still, questions have trailed the noise, and answers given have either been incomplete or worst, a lot more confusing.
In medical terms, a booster shot is an extra administration of a vaccine after an earlier dose. In the case against Covid-19, a booster shot is a re-exposure to the immunizing antigen given to you within a covered period after full immunization. Some vaccines offer lifelong protection against a virus, while other shots do not (such as the one for measles). Tetanus and diphtheria vaccines require a booster shot every 10 years. That’s how it has been for most of our modern-day medical cures and unlike the present threat we are faced with SARS- CoV- 2, the data has been recorded and established.
In the last year, or at the first instance we recognized just how serious the threat of Covid-19 was, medical science was relentless in finding a cure. Records have been broken and we have been given the fastest manufacture of a vaccine in 2 doses, and recently a single jab.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, a strategy is being facilitated for Covid-19 vaccine boosters which would lay out when and which vaccinated individuals would get the follow-up shots.
In the past month alone, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also been actively filling up holes with information on what we ought to know, and what we don’t know about the need for booster shots, including how often we might have to get one. Action speaks louder than the buzz, and mainstream media get to share a piece of their action on a daily basis, on every available platform.
But are we, in fact, protected? What little we know of how vaccines work now have us faced with the question of efficacy and the buzz surrounding booster shots. Why we need it, and when will we need it.
Here are some points we might need to educate ourselves with during these challenging times.
Correlates of Protection
At this time, medical researchers have reason to suspect the immunity provided by Covid-19 vaccines will wane over time. This is a general expectation partly because studies have shown that the natural immunity people develop against milder coronaviruses tends to decline over a period of time. Researchers also say people will probably need a booster shot for protection against variants that have emerged (Delta) and all future mutations that might be able to evade current vaccines.
“Historically, at least with the coronaviruses, the mild common cold coronaviruses, the durability of the protection from infection isn’t very long,” Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Anthony Fauci stated at The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Health conference last June. A clear follow-up to this statement made by Dr. Fauci is an official report from Pfizer stating that antibody levels start to decline from their earlier peaks about eight months after the second dose.
Most vaccines work by generating neutralizing antibodies, which prevent the virus from entering cells and replicating. According to recent research, vaccines continue to protect against severe disease even with reduced antibodies because vaccines help other immune-system weapons: the T-cells that hunt down infected cells and destroy them, and memory B-cells, which circulate in the blood and help churn out antibodies upon detecting a virus.
According to Pfizer’s data, a third shot or a booster dose increases antibody levels up to more than five times among people ages 18 to 55 and more than 11 times in people ages 65 to 85, compared with two doses.
Who Needs the Booster Shot?
Most recent reports show that people with weakened immune systems, age 65 or older and people who are immunocompromised, as well as those who got the shots in December or January shortly after they were rolled out, would now need booster shots as soon as this month. The immunocompromised include transplant recipients, some cancer survivors, and people living with HIV; their weakened immune systems make them less responsive to vaccines, which stimulate the immune system to provide protection. The elderly also tend to have weaker immune systems and they are also likely candidates for boosters.
France and Israel are already giving a third shot to some at-risk people. However, the World Health Organization has called for a halt on boosters until at least the end of September, citing an urgent need to vaccinate the rest of the world. This amid the Biden administration pushing for the swift release of an effective third shot strategy.
A Question of Time.
Whether and how often people would need to get a booster shot is under study right now. Covid-19 vaccines haven’t been around that long and the truth remains that not much time has passed to assess how long their promised protection will last. In the Pfizer research, results have shown that the efficacy of the vaccine protecting against symptomatic disease dropped every two months, to 84% after six months from a peak of 96% within two months of vaccination. Medical experts and researchers are now in the process of sorting out how often people would need to get a booster shot after figuring how long the vaccines provide their fullest protection against Covid-19.
Right now with the current two-shot regiment holding up well even against the highly infectious Delta variant, the timeline for administering a booster shot to effectively prevent severe illness in most people points to a variable time frame. It may be every year, 18 months, or even two years.
A Question of Ethics.
The U.S. and other wealthy countries are capable and ready to roll out booster shots now even when many other nations around the world haven’t yet had their first jab. Vaccine inequity is a deeply troubling problem in this pandemic. The WHO’s director-general has repeatedly appealed to wealthy countries to find a solution — and castigated them for not moving quicker. If affluent countries begin to dole out third doses to large segments of their populations, the problem the world has railed against will only tend to worsen.
A report from Bloomberg notes that of the 3.41 billion doses of vaccine that have been administered so far, 22% have been given in 27 countries that have only 10.4% of the global population. In a number of African countries, less than 1% of the populace has been vaccinated. In a number of countries, health workers remain unvaccinated.
According to a New York Times database, 192 million Americans — 58 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the nation’s adults — have received at least one vaccine shot. Still many remain vulnerable to the ultra contagious, dominant Delta variant with the country averaging nearly 86,000 new infections a day, an increase of 142 percent in just a two-week period of close monitoring.
More than 80 percent of Americans ages 65 to 74 are now fully vaccinated, compared with fewer than half of those ages 18 to 39, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The United States has pledged to donate 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses is by far the largest yet by a single country, but it would fully inoculate only about 3 percent of the world’s population.
Where we are now.
Globally, experts are watching closely to determine if and when people might need another shot. At the same time, many suggest the priority for the time being should be vaccinations, noting that worrisome coronavirus mutants wouldn’t be popping up so fast if more of the U.S. and the rest of the world had gotten the initial round of shots.
Antibodies gradually wane over a certain period. Medical science explains that this is normal for everyone because the human body does not have to be on heightened alert 24/7. Right now, we have medical experts on close watch, observing just how much overall immunity to the coronavirus will the vaccinated have over a period of time.
Suffice to say, and we concur, that booster shots aid in “boosting” antibodies against viral infection. Right before these levels of neutralizing antibodies drop, a booster shot will have reinvigorated the manufacture of more antibodies, building up a defense when needed the most. The prospect of future mutations escaping today’s vaccines might be something preventable with the strategic use of booster shots. To date, we have actually seen how the threat of Covid-19 continues to affect economies and political landscapes. It has been a leveler of some sort, pulling humanity towards a concentric circle to face our mortality regardless of class, age, sex, or religion.
Cracking down on the viral spread everywhere in the world requires everyone to be on the same side, sharing a single mindset and mission. For now, let us keep safe, be healthy, and always remain vigilant against the threat of Covid-19 and help stop the spread.