In the African American community, we are swimming upstream trying to close the gap between our vaccination rates and those of white Americans. We are telling our community: These vaccines are safe and effective. American science tells us so. Now comes confusion about whether you need a COVID-19 booster if you have been fully vaccinated. That muddies the water. So, let’s examine the issue.
Three weeks ago, President Biden announced that all fully vaccinated people, will need a booster even giving a starting date of Sept. 21, 2021. So, using my inside connections, I found a program that was authorized to give the booster. Got it, no problems. But shortly thereafter I learned that the president made that announcement without the official input from his various layers of advice-his official advisory committee, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. The need for a booster is based largely on data from the Israeli experience, that a booster helps protects people from dying with this infection. Let’s try to understand this issue.
WHAT IS A BOOSTER?
In medical terms, a booster dose is an extra administration of a vaccine after an earlier (primer) dose. With the first series of immunization, you get some protection. But that protection decreases over time. It happens with almost all vaccines. And that booster shot increases your immunity back to more protective levels.
IS GETTING A BOOSTER UNUSUAL?
Many childhood vaccines require a booster and some, like the COVID vaccine, need to be boosted every year.
WHY DO WE NEED A COVID BOOSTER SO SOON?
The prevailing theory is that if the immune system responds to a primary vaccine rapidly, the body does not have time to sufficiently develop immunological memory against the disease, and memory cells will not persist in high numbers for the lifetime of the human.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ADVISORY PANEL?
Neither the CDC nor the FDA has given an official answer, but the advisory committee suggests that people over 65, health care workers and those people who are immunocompromised should be vaccinated. Immune compromised means almost any serious chronic condition.
IS THE BOOSTER SAFE?
It should be, but the data on safety evolves over time and is constantly monitored.
As a doctor and immunologist, my advice is to get vaccinated now. But I believe that eventually everyone will be getting a booster after the first series of COVID-19 vaccinations, even infants. For now, the data suggests that if you are fully vaccinated, over 65, have a chronic disease and it’s been six months after your last vaccination, you need a booster. Waiting a few more months won’t put you at greater risk, but it could increase the possibility of breakthrough infections. Stay tuned because this COVID-19 booster policy is not written in stone and if you are younger than 65, it is likely to change soon. But the confusing messages do not help instill confidence in those from our community, who are sitting on the fence about the vaccine.