The Latest on COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness and Booster Shots

receiving a vaccine

Today I went for an annual physical. And I got a COVID-19 vaccination booster. Due to some of the work I do, I was considered an essential worker when vaccinations were first being administered. I got my initial two Pfizer shots in February. My doctor said that the newest research shows that the Pfizer vaccine works at maximum efficiency for six months and the Moderna for eight. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been suggesting those with autoimmune diseases get a third shot now, on Monday, August 30, an independent CDC panel concluded that a third dose of Pfizer vaccine be given after six months to all who have taken it. A panel of experts that advises the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on vaccines plans to meet on Sept. 17 to discuss additional doses of Pfizer’s shot, reports Reuters.

Last month, U.S. health officials had said a third shot would be made widely available on Sept. 20; however, the booster plan is dependent on FDA recommendation. As of now, Pfizer will be the first to offer a booster vaccine; Moderna just completed its submission for approval last week.

A recent article on stat.com noted that a recent report from the CDC stated that, “the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines at preventing infection fell in one study of U.S. frontline workers from roughly 90% to 66% as the Delta variant emerged and became dominant in the country….”

The stat.com article goes on to say that after the Delta variant took off as the main strain of the COVID-19 virus in the United States (U.S.), more breakthrough infections began to occur leading the CDC to suggest that even those who are vaccinated wear a mask when indoors with others. Delta variant is more infectious, bringing forth more asymptomatic and symptomatic breakthrough cases. But, vaccination is working. Few breakthrough cases are requiring hospitalization.

Also, as mitigation efforts have eased, and there is once again more contact between unmasked individuals, transmission has increased. The more exposure, the more chance of getting the disease. The most deadly results are happening to those who are unvaccinated.

Experts have also pointed out that, as mitigation efforts have been eased, social contact among individuals has increased, and transmission has picked up because of the increased exposure. Because Delta can overwhelm the immune response quicker than initial strains, it is causing individuals to get sick faster, and with less exposure. But, those who have been vaccinated are fighting off the virus before it does serious damage.

Among the unvaccinated, Delta variant spreads fast and can turn equally quickly into COVID pneumonia. This spread and virulence is causing an uptick in vaccinations, as is the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and older.

There are currently three vaccine choices: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Each vaccine works a bit differently, however, the Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA technology to create the vaccine.

As described by yalemedicine.org, “Unlike vaccines that put a weakened or inactivated disease germ into the body, the Pfizer mRNA vaccine delivers a tiny piece of genetic code from the SARS CoV-2 virus to host cells in the body, essentially giving those cells instructions, or blueprints, for making copies of spike proteins (the spikes you see sticking out of the coronavirus in pictures online and on TV)…These proteins stimulate an immune response, producing antibodies and developing memory cells that will recognize and respond if the body is infected with the actual virus.”

Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective against severe illness and death. Moderna is made in a similar manner with somewhat similar results, except that it has more “staying power.”

The Yale medicine article went on to explain that Johnson & Johnson uses a different means of delivery, “Scientists engineer a harmless adenovirus (a common virus that, when not inactivated, can cause colds, bronchitis, and other illnesses) as a shell to carry genetic code on the spike proteins to the cells (similar to a Trojan Horse). The shell and the code can’t make you sick, but once the code is inside the cells, the cells produce a spike protein to train the body’s immune system, which creates antibodies and memory cells to protect against an actual SARS-CoV-2 infection.” The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 86% effective against severe illness.

Currently, the CDC is looking into research concerning the giving of a booster of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. New research shows that a booster shot of this vaccine causes a “nine-fold increase” in spike-binding antibodies.

Those who were some of the earliest to get the vaccine in the medical community are already receiving booster shots, and if the vaccine is available, doctors are able to give it to their patients.

As Dr. Albert Shaw, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert noted in a second Yale Medicine article, “People get confused – or think something is wrong – when guidance changes with COVID-19, but we have to remember that we are learning about this as we go.”

According to local experts, the best we can do is stay aware of the most recent research and try to go where the science takes us. Vaccines are keeping people alive, they work. As do masks.

In a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, a COVID-19 unit doctor shared her stories. She called the disease a ‘monster’ because it is so unpredictable. The Delta variant even more so.

The medical community everywhere is doing all they can to get people vaccinated because it is working. They feel it is our best hope to move forward. And when the time comes to get a booster, then that is what we need to do.

As my doctor said, “Research shows it to be safe and effective. There is little reason for most of us not to get the shot, and the booster when given the opportunity. It is even less reactive than the second dose because your body has built up antibodies.”

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