By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In January of this year, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began and before the year is up, vaccine booster rollout will begin.
Earlier this week, medical and health experts associated with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the administration was planning to offer COVID-19 booster shots starting the week of Monday, Sept. 20.
According to Our World in Data, over 50% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated. In Wisconsin, 6.3 million doses have been administrated and 52.7% of the state’s eligible population is vaccinated.
The efficacy rates of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were over 90%, according to Yale Medicine, a clinical practice for Yale School of Medicine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had an efficacy rate of 72% with an 86% efficacy rate against severe disease.
Dr. Bechara Choucair is a vaccinations coordinator for the White House.
The three vaccines are safe and effective, he said, and they continue to offer protection to fully vaccinated people against hospitalization, death and the Delta variant.
That being said, even with highly effective vaccines, reduction happens over time, Choucair said.
In response, booster shots will be offered to fully vaccinated adults starting next month, Choucair said. Individuals who have received the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine may receive the booster shot eight months after they received their second dose.
He noted that for the time being, the booster shot is only available to individuals who have received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Since the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was introduced in March 2021, research regarding immunity reduction is still being conducted.
Choucair explained that data from New York, Mayo Clinic and cohorts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed three things.
“The first thing that we’ve seen is that the vaccine effectiveness against infection and that symptomatic and asymptomatic infection has been decreasing over time,” he said. “The second thing is that vaccine effectiveness against severe disease, hospitalization and death remains relatively high. And then the third thing we’ve seen is that vaccine effectiveness is decreased for the Delta variant.”
In short, an anticipation of further immunity waning coupled with the surge of the Delta variant are driving the booster effort, Choucair said.
The booster shot recommendation still has to be finalized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and by the CDC advisory committee on immunization practices, he said. The booster shot plan will apply across the country.
“We have enough vaccine supply now to be able to meet all the demands of people who need the booster shot; we have enough vaccine supply to meet the demand of the new people who are getting vaccinated every single day,” Choucair said. “And we’re really actually excited to see more and more people now getting vaccinated every single day and we’ll be able to meet both demands.”
Choucair believes people will receive the booster shot.
He noted that last week the CDC recommended that individuals who are immunocompromised receive an additional dose of the vaccine a month or so after receiving their second dose. They do not have to wait until September. Immunocompromised individuals are considered people who have received an organ transplant, are undergoing cancer treatment, have advanced HIV or take medication that lowers their immune system.
The concern remains with individuals who are unvaccinated, he said. Unvaccinated people are more likely to be hospitalized and die from the vaccine, he said. However, more people are getting vaccinated, and those numbers are starting to increase.
“We are basing this plan on data on science and that’s exactly what we promised the American people, the American public,” he said. “We want to stay ahead of this virus and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We will continue to communicate with the people in this country.”
Choucair continued, “We want to do everything we can to optimize and maximize the protection from these wonderful vaccines that we have.”