Pfizer Booster Update
If you thought the COVID-19 pandemic was mostly over, there is some bad news. Although the new vaccines have proven wildly effective in limiting transmission of COVID-19 and mitigating the severity of the illness if you do get infected, new variants of the virus are still posing significant challenges.
The current vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were developed in record time and have been more efficacious than almost anyone expected, but there is still much that we are learning about them and the virus. Among the most important revelations about the COVID-19 vaccines is the fact that many of them do not provide protection for as long as we hoped.
How Long Does the Pfizer Vaccine Protect against COVID-19
It is surprising that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine which is 95 percent effective after administration of both shots was developed after only a few months. What is more surprising is that this and the Moderna vaccine were created using mRNA, a completely new method of vaccine production. This is partly due to years of ongoing research into other coronaviruses like the common cold virus.
What is so far unknown about these COVID-19 vaccines is how long they will confer immunity. Strictly speaking, no one has the answer to these questions but it appears that they offer protection against COVID-19 for at least six months. Current research shows that vaccinated persons still exhibit robust immunity after six months—the length of time that they have been widely available.
Although analysis is still ongoing, some health experts suggest that they could remain efficacious for as long as 2 or 3 years. The exact period will depend on many factors including the evolution of the COVID-19 virus. Some public health authorities are warning people that they will likely have to get booster shots annually much like flu shots.
What Will the Pfizer Booster Shot Do?
In February of 2021, Pfizer announced that it was testing the safety and tolerability of a third dose of its vaccine. There are many reasons why a third shot (after the initial two-shot inoculation) may be necessary. One study by the Health Ministry of Israel found the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine fell to 64 percent after six months, which is why Israel is now offering a third round of shots.
In addition to flagging immunity, the Pfizer vaccine may not offer similar protection against new variants like the rapidly growing delta variant. Variants Are mutated versions of the original virus that may be more difficult to immunize against because they have different signal proteins on their surface; without these signal proteins, your body’s antibodies—that the vaccine helped produce—will not recognize and attack the variant.
A booster shot will not only support the original immunity against the baseline virus, it should also add additional immunity against the new variant. It does this by introducing mRNA, which acts as a blueprint for new antibodies that can identify the variant.
Although the vaccine makers are working on variant-specific vaccines, they may not be necessary in the next set of vaccine boosters. The current vaccines do confer some immunity upon people, but it isn’t quite as powerful as that protection against the original virus. So it may only be necessary to “recharge” the antibodies already present but which may be weakening.
Who Should Get a Booster Shot
According to the government experts, everyone should try to get a vaccine booster shot when they become available in order to maintain optimal immunity against COVID-19, but there are certain groups of people who should make it a high priority.
Among those most at risk of a potential COVID-19 infection are the elderly or those with comorbid conditions like obesity. These weakened immune systems not only mean that they are less likely to successfully fight off an infection, but they are also less likely to have developed the proper immune response following an initial inoculation. Seniors and anyone with a compromised immune system should get a booster shot as soon as possible.
Controversy about Booster Shots
If you have been paying attention to the latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be confused by the conflicting messages coming from various sources. A June study in Nature reported that mRNA vaccines like Pfizer offered immunity for up to years.
However, Pfizer does not seem willing to accept this possibility. Pfizer announced in July of 2021 that it would seek FDA authorization for a third dose of its vaccine to be administered six months after the initial shots. It cited potentially weakening immune responses and the growing predominance of the delta variant as justifications for the booster shots.
On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not seem in favor of such boosters. The two agencies issued a joint statement just hours after Pfizer’s announcement, stating that those who were fully vaccinated at this time did not require a third shot.
It is obvious that the government is trying to encourage vaccination by publicly saying that only two shots are necessary for lasting immunity. This counters some of the vaccine hesitancy that is present in various segments of U.S. society that is based on inadequately effective vaccines or an ongoing process of annual shots.
It is surprising, however, that these agencies which are tasked with protecting the American public would risk potentially deadly infections. Although the immunity that the Pfizer vaccine offers at six months may be sufficient for most Americans, it most likely is not going to be enough for everyone.
Ultimately, the controversy over getting a booster will come down to you. The best person to get advice from is your doctor who has intimate knowledge of your health so they are most informed about what is the best course of action for you at any given time. You should keep in mind that COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving disease, so you should periodically check in with your physician.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.