National healthcare leaders recently called for booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for some individuals. Does that mean the vaccine isn’t doing its job?
Not at all, said Kristin Dascomb, MD, an Infectious Diseases physician and the Medical Director for Employee Health at Intermountain Healthcare. “We have full confidence that the vaccines work. If you look at the data, you’ll see that people who are vaccinated are significantly less likely to develop severe disease, be hospitalized, or die.”
Instead, the booster news demonstrates that with COVID, we’re still learning and adapting. Research has shown that the Pfizer vaccine may lose some of its effectiveness around six to eight months after a person is fully vaccinated, particularly among older and immunocompromised individuals. A booster dose will help extend effectiveness of the vaccine by reminding the immune system what it needs to do to protect the body.
Research has shown that young and healthy people have excellent immunity months after vaccination. That’s why only certain groups are eligible for a booster dose right now. Individuals must have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and belong to one of the following groups:
- Age 65 and older
- Adults who live in high-risk settings, such as long-term care facilities
- Adults who work in high-risk settings, such as first responders (healthcare workers, firefighters, police), education (teachers, school staff, daycare workers), food service, grocery stores, corrections industry, manufacturing and more
- Age 50 and over with underlying medical conditions, or
- Adults age 18-49 with underlying medical conditions who may choose to receive a booster dose after considering individual risks and benefits. People in this group may want to discuss the decision with their physician.
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension)
- HIV infection
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
- Liver disease
- Obesity (BMI ≥30 kg/m)
- Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
- Smoking, current or former
- Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
- Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
- Substance use disorders
Dr. Dascomb doesn’t want us to worry. Data from across the country show that the vaccines are doing a remarkable job of preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death. Recent figures from the Utah Department of Health show that unvaccinated Utahns had 6.4 times greater risk of getting COVID-19, 7.3 times the risk of being hospitalized, and 5.9 times the risk of dying than people who are vaccinated.
“COVID-19 is an ever-changing situation, but the available vaccines are working,” she said.