Local doctor weighs in on newly available COVID vaccine boosters

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — All three available coronavirus vaccines now have booster recommendations from the CDC. Plus, eligible populations can choose which booster they receive, giving us more tools in the fight against COVID-19.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine booster was recommended for eligible groups nearly a month ago. Now, the Moderna and J&J vaccines are, too.

As of Thursday, the CDC is recommending booster doses of Pfizer or Moderna six months after the initial series for those 65 years and older, and those 18 and older who: live in long-term care settings, have underlying conditions, or who work or live in high-risk settings.

J&J boosters are also recommended for anyone 18 and older who was vaccinated two or more months ago.

Those recommendations came after the FDA revised its booster authorizations on Wednesday.

“If we can get people to get their booster shots, then that’s going to decrease the risk of those breakthrough infections and also going to decrease the risk of then secondary transmission,” said Dr. Todd Bell, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo. “And that means that we’re going to decrease the risk of having another surge later on this winter.”

On Wednesday, the FDA also authorized the mixing and matching of vaccine boosters, saying people can get a booster dose of any available vaccine—even if they previously had a different brand.

Dr. Bell said those who previously were vaccinated with J&J could have better protection with an mRNA booster. He said a study in the UK with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is similar to J&J, showed similar findings.

“If folks had the original series with the Johnson&Johnson or with the AstraZeneca, that when they got one of the mRNA vaccine boosters, that actually had a better effect, than if they got another booster of the same thing that they got before,” said Dr. Bell.

Either way, he said it takes about a week to two weeks after the booster dose for the immune system to kick in.

“That’s going to provide additional antibodies, which is going to make the risk of those mild breakthrough infections lower,” he continued. “Now, we’re already going into a period where we are seeing lower transmission in our community than we were a month ago. But it’s a slow decline.”

Eventually, Dr. Bell said he thinks booster eligibility will expand and the majority of people will get further protection against the virus.

He said now is the time to get your first series if you have not.

“So, those folks who have gotten an infection, we would strongly encourage them to go ahead and be vaccinated and now that may be their primary series, and that’s fine. But that combination of having been infected plus being vaccinated, is going to be really protective, and it’s going to be able to help them out as we go on through the rest of the winter,” Dr. Bell added.

Dr. Bell also said he anticipates the FDA to look through Pfizer’s data for vaccines for kids ages 5-11 in the next few weeks. That means the CDC could make a recommendation based on that data soon.

“Then that’s going to allow us to be able to have an opportunity to protect another portion of the population that so far has been kind of left dangling in the wind here.”

As a reminder, Dr. Bell, who also serves as Amarillo’s Public Health Authority, said most kids who contract COVID-19 will remain healthy.

“However, while they’re busy getting over their virus, they may give it to grandma or grandpa or somebody else who’s not going to do so well. And so from a population standpoint, it’ll also be important that we encourage our kids to get vaccinated.”

He said while boosters will help slow our transmission rates further, we still need to get the vaccine to the rest of the world to help stop mutations in the virus, preventing more variants like Delta.

Dr. Bell said, “We also have to be thinking about the world at large, not just from an altruistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of if we can stamp out and dampen disease around the globe, that’s going to be able to help us out here in Amarillo, Texas in the long run.”

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