A Booster Shot

The Biden administration recently recommended that Americans have a booster shot for those who received an mRNA vaccine eight months after your last shot. The reason is that studies are starting to show waning immunity from the vaccines. The drop in protection varies, but we all expected that as the virus mutated the protection against it would diminish. While there is still protection from the virus, it may not be as strong at a time when we will need as much as possible going into the school and holiday season.

Those studies still show strong protection from severe illness or death, but evidence from Israel which launched one of the most aggressive vaccination campaigns worldwide is revealing the decline in protection. Looking at the details, the data suggests that while the vaccines provide protection against the delta variant, the fact that it produces such a viral load may show that it is overwhelming our bodies immune response and causing breakthrough infections. Studies have shown that the viral load from the delta variant is about 1,000 times greater than the alpha variant.

The question then becomes what the booster should consist of. Should it include mRNA designed to target the delta variant or just another dose of what we got over the past year? If we opt for the former, the earliest a booster targeting the delta variant is several months away as trials such as this one from Pfizer are just getting approval to begin and have not yet started recruiting. This trial will study the efficacy and safety of an mRNA vaccine that targets both the alpha and the delta variant.

Based on some studies of individuals with immunocompromised conditions, a third dose did elicit a strong immune response that is needed to combat the delta variant and possibly reduce infection rates. The third doses did not cause any adverse affects in individuals, following the same situation we have seen with the first and second doses, particularly of mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines do not alter the DNA structure of our cells and only create markers that our body recognizes and creates an antibody response to. With T and B cell memory, the vaccine ramps up the response and builds even stronger protection.

There are some concerns from the world community that by starting booster shots now, we will be depriving some countries of first and second doses of the vaccines. However, production has been increasing across the globe for these vaccines as well as vaccines from other countries. In fact, those vaccines are showing as high efficacy rates aginst the delta variant as the three approved in the US. Production will only increase throughout the fall and the US even plans to send 500 million doses to other countries to help them combat COVID-19.

Most likely, we will be battling the coronavirus for decades to come. Such was the case with the Spanish flu caused by the H1N1 virus. To this day, we still create vaccines to protect us from variants of the virus in our seasonal flu vaccines. It was one of the four viruses the most recent seasonal flu vaccine targeted. Each year, researchers determine what variants to target and create the multivalent vaccines we take starting next month. While it would be nice to have the mRNA vaccines bundled in those vaccines, their development started months ago and there just wasn’t time to attempt to bundle them together. However, there are studies looking to do so and maybe we’ll see that next year.

In the meantime, probably the best protection for this fall will be two shots, one for the seasonal flu and one for the mRNA vaccine. Having been one who got that combination around the same time last year, I can attest there will be no risks in doing so. Quite honestly, I’m looking forward to getting that third booster shot next month on my annual visit for the vaccine trial. I’ll follow it with my seasonal flu shot around October/November. It will make life so much easier come this holiday season. Why fight either virus at a time when we want to enjoy life celebrating the holidays?

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