Questions answered: Who, what, when and where of booster shots

Today, President Biden announced plans to recommend all fully vaccinated Americans get a COVID booster shot for better protection.

We break down what this means for you and Nevada:

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Who:

Per the Biden administration, this would be all fully vaccinated Americans 18 and up who had the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Federal officials say more data needs to be collected with Johnson & Johnson before an official decision.

This follows an earlier decision from the CDC to OK booster shots for those with weak immune systems.

What:

A third, so-called “booster shot”.

This isn’t a “new” formula–but rather the same vaccine. The only reaction that’s different is the one from your body.

“People think the booster shots are a new formulated shot against the variants. It’s not. It’s the same shot we got earlier in the year,” Family Physician Dr. Daliah Wachs said. “Getting that extra boost reminds your antibodies: ‘Hey guys, remember, you need to be on the lookout for this.'”

Doctors say you should stick with whatever dose you previously had. That means if you got a Moderna shot 8 months ago–your booster should be Moderna too.

When:

With FDA approval, the rollout would begin on September 20th.

It would first be available to those who had the second dose at least 8 months prior. (Those who got their second shot at or before January 20th would be eligible on September 20th, those who got it in February would be eligible in October and so forth) Officials with the Southern Nevada Health District say this is a normal timeline for boosters.

Of course, all of this depends on approval from the FDA to ensure third doses are safe. That’s expected within a few weeks.

Where:

Currently, COVID vaccines are available throughout multiple locations in the valley, including dozens of pharmacies.

SNHD tells News 3 it has the capacity to provide additional vaccines to the public. A spokesperson says SNHD will continue to monitor the demand and is prepared to open additional or larger clinic sites if needed.

Why:

In his address, President Biden said the possibility of booster shots has been discussed for several months.

Family Physician Dr. Ati Hakimi says this is due to two variables: most vaccines wane in efficacy over time, and most viruses also mutate.

“We have discovered with the research, about 6 to 8 months is when it starts to wane,” she said. “This virus is so smart and it’s mutating.”

A recent study of 10 million New Yorkers shows vaccine effectiveness decreased from 92 percent in May to 80 percent in July.

So far, the vaccines have done their jobs fending off serious disease and death. While breakthrough cases are documented, the vast majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 remain unvaccinated locally and nationally.

However, doctors fear another variant—stronger or deadlier than Delta–could emerge.

That could be concerning, says Dr. Hakimi, with vaccine protection fading as the months go on.

“So that 90 percent will start to become maybe 70, 80, possibly 60 percent,” she said. “So if you get that booster you will get yourself back up there to get the antibodies that will fight for you.”

Health professionals argue the idea is to keep immunity high and be proactive against future variants.

“It’s actually the best time to be proactive with these boosters instead of being reactive,” Dr. Hakimi said.

In a recent press conference with health officials, Dr. Anthony Facui, infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, said studies show a ten-fold increase of antibodies after a third dose of the mRNA vaccines.

“You don’t want to find yourself behind playing catch up,” he said. “Better stay ahead than chasing after it.”

Not everyone agrees

However, not all doctors are on the same page on boosters. Just earlier this year, the World Health Organization asked wealthy countries to pump the break on boosters as thousands in the world still haven’t received a single dose.

“We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing.

Other doctors suggest the data points to only giving some populations—including the immunocompromised and elderly—a third shot.

“These data support giving additional doses of vaccine to highly immunocompromised persons and nursing home residents, not to the general public,” Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and a former adviser on the pandemic to the administration told the New York Times. “We’ll be better protected by vaccinating the unvaccinated here and around the world.”

“If you look at the whole, unvaccinated populations could be worse to public health, than those who have had two shots but might need some more immunity,” said Dr. Wachs earlier this month.

Ask your Doctor

In the next few weeks and months ahead, Dr. Hakimi says the best person to ask for advice for the booster shot is your personal doctor. And in the meantime, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, she urges you to do so to help out our community.

“If we want Vegas to come back to how we had Vegas, then we all have to be on board,” she said.

Picture of Dr. Hakimi

Dr. Hakimi

Dr. Ati Hakimi MD graduated from Northwestern University residency in Family Medicine and did an extra year of training in Geriatric Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. She has practiced medicine for over 20 years.

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