Your Questions About the Booster Shot: Answered
On Wednesday, August 16th, the Biden administration made the official announcement that a third COVID-19 shot is recommended for all Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is a booster shot?
The booster shot is the exact same vaccine as the two-dose regimen. Booster shots are not unusual, it is recommended we receive them for other vaccines like tetanus and diphtheria (Td) every 10 years.
Booster shots do as the name describes, boost the immunity provided by the original vaccine. A vaccination will produce an initial surge in the number of immune cells that make antibodies for a specific disease. But over time, this surge will slowly drop and leave behind a smaller group of ‘memory’ B and T cells that will last much longer and protect the body against future infections. But the 'memory' B and T cells will be hard pressed to garner the same immune response as the original antibodies. This reaction is NOT specific to the COVID-19 vaccination, there are no vaccines that don’t suffer from a decline in B or T cells.
A booster shot will cause these antibody producing B cells to multiply, which will elevate the overall level of antibodies. Booster shots also promote affinity maturation, a process in which B cells that have been triggered by the vaccine will travel to the lymph nodes. In the lymph nodes, B cells will gain mutation that will allow their antibodies to bind to pathogens more strongly. This potentially increases their overall potency.
Research has demonstrated that a third dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines prompt a spike in infection-blocking antibodies when administered several months after the second dose. The booster shot and the subsequent rise in antibodies it causes will allow vaccine efficacy to last for much longer.
Why do I need a booster shot?
This announcement is coming at a time when the ultra-contagious Delta COVID-19 variant has raised the numbers of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to heights not seen since the height of the pandemic last winter. While data has still indicated that the vaccinated still remain highly protected against COVID-19, recent spikes in hospitalization rates of vaccinated people put that fact into question.
This announcement was also made after new research demonstrated a drop in the COVID-19 vaccine efficiency several months after the second dose. Pfizer researchers recently published data that showed the vaccine’s efficacy against symptomatic disease slipped from 96% to 84% after 6 months. Earlier, in April, Moderna reported a similar drop in efficacy from 94% to 90% after six months. Also keep in mind that these figures were recorded before the Delta strain become the most widespread COVID-19 variant in the U.S., which means these numbers are likely lower in reality.
These statistics not only reflect a declining number of antibodies from the vaccine, but also the efficacy of the vaccine against new COVID-19 variants like Delta. In Isreal, a country with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, estimated that vaccine protection against both infection and disease had fallen from “above 90% in the early months of its progremme to around 40% by late June.” Researchers speculate that this drop is due to both falling vaccine efficacy and the Delta variant.
The Delta variant now accounts for 98.8% of new infections in the U.S., so this data likely reflects a not-so-far future for Americans. As described above, a booster shot will create another spike in antibodies and increase overall efficacy.
Who will get the booster shot?
In the announcement, the Biden administration made sure to stress that while a third booster shot will be available for all Americans eventually, high-risk populations will be first in line. This includes:
Health care workers
Nursing home residents
For the rest of the vaccinated American adults, the third booster shot will be available starting the week of September 20th. The announcement also mentioned that booster shots will be available 8 months after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. For example, if you received your vaccine on March 1, 2021, you will be eligible for the booster on November 1, 2021.
The vaccine booster shot is already available for those with compromised immune systems. According to the CDC, this list includes individuals who are:
Actively receiving cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
Taking medication to suppress the immune system
Received an organ transplant
Received, within the last 2 years, a stem cell transplant
Suffer from moderate to severe primary immunodeficiency
Have an advanced or untreated HIV infection
**The CDC also notes that people in the above groups should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition before receiving an additional dose.
Will I still have side effects?
Yes, you will have some side effects, likely similar to the prior doses. Specific details are still unclear, as the research is too early to tell. The CDC reports that there is “limited information about the risks of receiving an additional dose of vaccine, and the safety, efficacy, and benefit of additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine in immunocompromised people continues to be evaluated."
But the agency also noted that the side effects of a booster shot are very similar to that of the prior two. The most common symptoms include mild to moderate fatigue and pain at the injection site.
What about Johnson & Johnson?
The recent announcement about booster shots was only relevant to individuals who have received either the Pfizer or Moderna booster shot. It is likely that those who received the Johnson & Johnson will require additional doses in the future.
Johnson & Johnson has created a plan to provide booster shots, but the new data will continue to be reviewed over the next few weeks reported officials from the CDC.
The bottom line:
The CDC is still the expert on all things COVID-19 and America. We should be trusting their recommendations and making wise, educated decisions from that. COVID-19 is unlike any virus we have encountered before. And we have to trust the scientists and doctors working diligently to prevent the spread while saving the lives of millions throughout the world.
In the meantime, as you wait for a booster shot, you should still be working to optimize your health in order to protect yourself from the future, potentially more dangerous strains of COVID-19.
The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 276-235-3205.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!