When a person receives a vaccine dose, their body’s immune system acquires protection against a specific type of illness – e.g., influenza, polio, COVID-19, etc.
Depending on the vaccine and how effective it is, health providers may need to give another dose of the vaccine to help ‘boost’ a person’s immune system.
Edward Walsh, MD, an Infectious Disease specialist with Rochester Regional Health, has insight into the research about boosters for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Medical providers will provide booster shots in cases where data and peer-reviewed research shows the need for additional protection for a person’s immune system.
There are several booster shots currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. Experts recommend adults get this particular booster shot every 10 years.
A study currently underway by scientists with Rochester Regional Health and University of Rochester Medical Center could help experts further understand how mRNA vaccines invoke an immune response.
“We've been giving booster doses to look at the effect of actually giving a booster dose,” Dr. Walsh said. “One: how well is it tolerated and we've learned that it is well tolerated. And secondly, we've also been wondering if it raises antibody levels quite substantially, even well above those that were obtained after the first two doses. So if you really do need a booster dose, I think we are in a very good position to, to move forward in that regard.”
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a statement, saying people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need a booster shot at this time.
There are a small number of cases in which people who are fully vaccinated do contract COVID-19. But for those patients, the symptoms will look more like a common cold and won’t become severe. Dr. Walsh estimates roughly 15 percent people could see sniffles, a sore throat, or perhaps a slight cough.
“For severe disease, hospitalization, pneumonia, deaths, and so forth - at this point - the vaccines are holding up extremely well," Dr. Walsh said.
The simplest answer is: We don’t know. There is still research being done around the world, including in Rochester, about the need for a booster shot for all of the COVID-19 vaccines. The scientists behind the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still poring over the data.
“Will there be a point some time, let's say a year, down the road, where more severe illness does start to occur at a higher rate?”, Dr. Walsh said. “At that point, you may decide that we really should give a booster dose. And I think at this point, we don't have enough data to know that yet.”
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