Local health officials speak on potential impact of Pfizer booster shots

Coronavirus

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Since the initial vaccine rollout, thousands of individuals have fully received one of the versions of the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Amarillo community. Now, based on some findings released by the Centers for Disease Control Friday, some local residents who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could be eligible for a third booster shot. 

According to the CDC’s website, the following individuals are eligible for Pfizer booster shots: 

  • people 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings can receive a booster shot at least 6 months after their initial series; 
  • people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions can receive a booster shot at least 6 months after their initial series;
  • people aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions can receive a booster shot at least 6 months after their initial series, based on their individual benefits and risks; 
  • people aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting can receive a booster shot at least 6 months after their initial series based on their individual benefits and risks.

“Many of the people who are now eligible to receive a booster shot received their initial vaccine early in the vaccination program and will benefit from additional protection,” the release from the CDC states. “With the Delta variant’s dominance as the circulating strain and cases of COVID-19 increasing significantly across the United States, a booster shot will help strengthen protection against severe disease in those populations who are at high-risk for exposure to COVID-19 or the complications from severe disease.” 

Rodney Young, the regional chair of family and community medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said the booster doses consist of the same dose an individual received in their initial series of doses. The third dose is expected to boost antibody levels after data has shown that antibodies from the initial series have decreased over time. 

Brian Weis, the chief medical officer at the Northwest Texas Healthcare System, said when the vaccines were initially released, it was stated that scientists were not sure how long of an immunity the vaccines were going to give people who received them. 

“We’ve taken our best guess and I think now, looking at the data, particularly looking at the data that came out of Israel, where they clearly showed that once you get seven or eight months out from these vaccines, there’s a significant diminution of resistance, you know, and also a diminution of the ability of the vaccine to protect you from getting seriously ill,” he said. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Weis said Northwest initially provided the Pfizer vaccine to patients, including the majority of its staff. Hospital officials expected this announcement, causing them to purchase more than 1,500 booster doses in advance.

Weis said that hospital officials are planning to give the third dose out to the individuals who received their initial series of doses at Northwest at the beginning of October. 

“It’s just going to make it safer for the people that already had the vaccine,” Weis said. 

For the individuals who received either the Moderna or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Weis encouraged them to be patient regarding the booster shot, even with the similarities between the Pfizer and the Moderna mRNA vaccines. 

“Even though Pfizer and Moderna are really two very similar vaccines, there are some differences in how people respond to them, and how they’ve protected against COVID,” Weis said. “You know the thing about Moderna right now is I don’t think they’re far behind in terms of getting the approval of a booster but they are looking at a reduced dose for this third dose of the vaccine.”

Young does not expect it to be long before Moderna is approved for a booster vaccine, he said. 

“If you got the Moderna vaccine, you are likely, in not too long, going to be told ‘okay, here’s your opportunity for a booster dose,’” Young said. “In the meantime, you have little to worry about because that vaccine tends to show a very nice level of protection, a high level of safety and good durability to the initial series of the vaccine.” 

As of Friday, Young stressed that no groups of individuals are recommended to get more than three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, that could change. 

“Do not be surprised if that recommendation changes with time in a similar way to how we think about flu vaccines, that periodically, you need a booster to strengthen the immune response,” Young said. “Or, if the vaccines are changed in such a way that there are new strains that are covered better by a subsequent iteration of the vaccine, then it’s likely we will get new advice that says we should have a booster vaccine that contains those components.” 

For those not eligible for the booster shot, or those who received the Moderna or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Young said the average person who is fully vaccinated remains well protected if they continue to follow COVID-19 safety precautions, including wearing a mask while indoors, and while in close proximity to others as well as social distancing. 

“If you are fully vaccinated with any of the three available vaccines, your risks are low, if you have a normal immune system,” he said. “If you’re older or have reasons to be immunosuppressed… might mitigate the body’s ability to have responded to the vaccines earlier and to do it in such a durable way. So, that may decrease them with time, and you’d be a better candidate for a booster sooner.” 

But with approximately 45% of the population of Potter and Randall counties being fully vaccinated, both Weis and Young continued to stress the importance of individuals who are not yet vaccinated receiving one of the vaccines on the market, whether it is the Pfizer, the Moderna or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. 

“If we can’t get a larger percentage of our population vaccinated period, then we’re gonna have a hard time reigning this thing in,” Young said. “We won’t be able to do it with the mitigation strategies alone and we will very likely be talking about COVID, you know, as an ongoing endemic illness where there’s probably some seasonality to it. But we need to be vaccinated for it and take precautions related to it.” 

Out of the individuals who have contracted COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, Weis said those individuals’ symptoms have been mild to moderate, stressing it would have been more severe if they had not had the vaccine. 

“We’d love everyone to get one of these vaccines and protect themselves, because in doing that, they’re protecting others around them,” he said. 

Officials with the city of Amarillo told MyHighPlains.com that the city’s public health department is currently meeting demand for the Pfizer vaccine at the various vaccination clinics they are hosting. Officials stressed that the city is able to order doses of the vaccine as needed. 

As of Friday, the city of Amarillo’s public health department is only providing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to those between the ages of 12-17 at its various vaccination clinics. First and second doses are available, according to the Amarillo Alerts website

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