Experts debate third Covid booster shot

NOW: Experts debate third Covid booster shot

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- On Thursday, Sept. 23, a CDC panel endorsed giving booster doses of Pfizer's Covid vaccine to people 65 and older, long-term care facility residents and certain people with underlying conditions.

But how easy will it be to get one, and who really needs them?

While the FDA rejected offering a third COVID-19 booster shot to the entire US population, it did sign off on shots for seniors and others at high risk of the virus.

This is at odds with the Biden administration, who originally set a Sept. 20 date to dispense third doses of the vaccine to everyone amid the spread of the delta variant, which has driven U.S. deaths and cases back up to levels not seen since last winter.  

While there is confusion surrounding who should get the third shot and when, some experts believe booster shots should and will be in the general population’s future. Why? Because according to Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control and prevention at UW Health, the vaccine’s effectiveness diminishes over time.

“It is helpful, or it will be, to have a booster that will augment this immunity that is now waning,” she said. 

CDC data shows around 1-million people have already gotten a third shot.

“This one is for those who are immunocompromised, which is available now, and those people should be first in line to get that,” Dr. Safdar said. 

The CDC has guidance for who is considered immunocompromised and Pfizer booster shots are available at a number of places, including Pick n’ Save stores across the Milwaukee and Madison areas. Birgitta Monson, pharmacy practice coordinator for Pick n’ Save, encourages interested people to make an appointment if they are eligible.

“It is well worth it getting that extra boost of protection as delta continues to spread,” she said.  

Why are some experts divided on booster shots? Because some of the data appears to be divided. A recent study out of Israel says the third shot helps stop delta variant transmission, at about an 11-fold reduction of illness.

The study also shows the Pfizer booster gives a tenfold reduction in the risk of falling seriously ill in a breakthrough case, when compared to people with two shots. 

But in rejecting a booster shot for the general population last week, the FDA said more research is necessary. And a story published this month in the Lancet, suggests people wait for a booster. 

If more data shows that vaccine immunity wanes over time, Safdar expects a third booster shot to be approved for everyone.

“If the vaccine is waning in its protectiveness and its immunity, then everyone should get the booster,” Safdar said.

Data on a booster shot for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines is expected in the coming weeks.

Consult your doctor to see if a booster shot is right for you.

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