Will a COVID-19 booster be needed? The quick answer is — we don’t know.
A booster is an additional dose of a vaccine given periodically to “boost” protection. Our answer is noncommittal because recommendations may depend on several factors such as a person’s age and health, the COVID-19 vaccine originally received, if vaccine-evading variants arise and the level of infection in a community.
Boosters are more likely to be recommended for people who are at higher risk of severe COVD-19. Those first in line when the vaccines initially rolled out are most likely to need boosting including older adults, those with weakened immune systems or conditions like obesity and diabetes. Some physicians already are boosting patients with severely weakened immune systems, although there’s not any supporting research or formal recommendation to do so.
The brand and vaccine type also may turn out important in the decision to boost. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna) appear to induce long-lasting immunity in healthy individuals but less is known about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (looking good so far). Although much has been said about the durability of protection in the media, it’s all based on scientific speculation. The only way to know will be to follow the vaccines over time.
Boosting will be a must if variants develop dodge-vaccine protection. We know the vaccines authorized in the United States work well against the variants, including delta. Delta now accounts for more than half of infections in the United States, seems to spread better and possibly may be more dangerous.
If protection-evading variants arise, we may need to receive boosters that cover those variants much like we receive a flu vaccine each year to cover circulating strains.
Any recommendation will be based on the level of infections. This will depend on the strength of herd immunity in a region. Herd immunity rises as more people have immunity against the virus, either through vaccination or natural infection, and no longer effectively transmit the virus to others.
Currently, 56 percent of eligible Americans have had at least one vaccine dose. Rates vary, though — as high as 82 percent of eligible Vermonters and as low as 37 percent of eligible Mississippians. Fifty-nine percent of those 12 and older have had at least one dose in Texas.
In Galveston County, 58 percent have had at least a dose and 53 percent are fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, until full herd immunity is reached across the globe, SARS-CoV-2 will be continually reintroduced into our community.
All the authorized vaccines in the United States are being evaluated for boosting. Trials are ongoing, looking at boosting with a different vaccine than the original one received with the thought it may improve the booster response. A study in Spain showed “mixing and matching” was safe and produced good immune responses.
Stay tuned. We will let you know if boosting becomes recommended. Please, encourage friends and family to be vaccinated. It’s the quickest, safest way to stop the pandemic.