Will we need boosters? What will a rollout look like? Answering questions about the next round of shots

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout slowing down, many people are wondering if they will need to come back to a clinic for a booster shot.

“It’s trying to scramble and get Version 2 out while we’re still working hard on Version 1 of the vaccine,” said Dr. Tony Moody, a professor of pediatrics at Duke’s medical school.

Plenty of questions are circulating about the possibility of booster shots, and CBS 17 News asked Moody and Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the UNC School of Medicine, for those answers.

WILL WE NEED BOOSTERS?

Most likely, Wohl said.

“We know that boosters shots are probably going to happen,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, I think they will happen.”

What we don’t know yet is how long the protection will last, chiefly because the vaccines have only been widely available to people for roughly six months. So it may take time to collect enough information to know for sure.

“It’s important to recognize when we have the data, and it’s important to recognize when we don’t have the data,” Moody said.

WHAT WILL A BOOSTER ROLLOUT LOOK LIKE?

Wohl says we learned several lessons during the rollout earlier this year.

He says making the boosters available at several types of places — from doctor’s offices to pharmacies to other spots offering drive-thru and walk-in shots — will work best.

“Just make it really accessible to people,” he said.

It also might be helpful to bundle it with other shots — the flu vaccine, for example.

“You get your flu shot, and you get your COVID-19 booster,” Wohl said.

HOW LONG WILL VACCINE PROTECTION LAST?

We don’t know yet, but early results seem promising. Wohl says antibody responses “look really good even out six months to a year, maybe longer.”

Moody says the reason for boosters is twofold: A need for more immunity that decreases over time, or a concern about mutations to the virus.

For example, people need tetanus boosters roughly once a decade because the level of protection wanes as time passes. Meanwhile, drugmakers produce a new influenza vaccine every year because that virus changes so rapidly. And we know the coronavirus has also mutated several times already.

“There’s a lot of things that are at play here trying to figure out exactly what to do,” Moody said.

HOW WILL WE KNOW IF WE WIND UP NEEDING BOOSTERS?

Wohl says it’s key to keep track of the people getting infected.

“If people who are vaccinated start to get sick with COVID-19, we know that there is some waning immunity,” Wohl said.

It’s also important to watch people’s antibody levels.

“It’s a pretty good crude way to analyze whether or not people likely have immunity,” he said. “So we might start seeing that antibody levels are dropping in most people over a certain time point. And that’s when we should boost them.”

IF WE NEED BOOSTERS, WHY BOTHER GETTING A SHOT NOW?

This is otherwise known as the “kick-the-can” theory — why get the shot now if we’re going to have to come back and get another one sometime down the road?

Bad idea, Moody said.

“Getting the vaccine now and getting the vaccine that is available to you now is the right thing to do because the vaccines very clearly prevent hospitalization and severe disease and death,” he said. 

“I think those data really can’t be argued against. They’re really strong,” he added. “Now, you know, I get that people want to have autonomy over their bodies, and they want to be able to make their own decisions. And you know, I’m an American, and I support all of that. But I do think that people should educate themselves with real data and see exactly what the data show.

“I can understand the idea of just trying to kick the can down the road, as you say, I think that waiting for the booster shot or waiting for something that’s perfect is probably not wise. There’s a saying in medicine — don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. And I think this is definitely one of those situations.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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