Washington, DC—With the likelihood of COVID-19 booster shots beginning in September for those who received mRNA vaccines, pharmacists are fielding a lot of questions. Here is how to answer some of the most frequent ones:

1. Does that mean my COVID-19 vaccine has stopped working?
No, according to Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, U.S. surgeon general.

Dr. Murthy said even though the most recent data “affirms that vaccine protection remains high against the worst outcomes of COVID, we are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.”

That is why COVID-19 booster shots are likely to be offered to fully vaccinated adults aged 18 years and older as of September 20th. 

2. Is the booster-shot plan a done deal?
Dr. Murthy emphasizes that the plan is pending the FDA conducting an independent evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and the CDC’s Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issuing booster-dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence.

3. Why shouldn’t I get a booster shot today?
The plan is designed to ensure that those who were first fully vaccinated will be eligible for a booster first.  That includes healthcare providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors. Dr. Murthy said the federal government will begin delivering booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities. 

“If you are fully vaccinated, you still have a high degree of protection from the worst outcomes of COVID-19—severe disease, hospitalization, and death—so we are not recommending that you go out and get a booster today,” he added. “Instead, starting the week of September 20th, fully vaccinated adults could begin getting their booster shots eight months after their second shot of an mRNA vaccine.”

4. What evidence did recent studies find to justify booster shots?
CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, said three important data points were derived from recent research:
• Vaccine-induced protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time. 
• Vaccine effectiveness against severe disease, hospitalization, and death remains relatively high. 
• Vaccine effectiveness is generally decreased against the Delta variant. 

Dr. Walensky notes that vaccine effectiveness in May was as high as 92% but began to decline. Based on a study in New York, she said, vaccine effectiveness early during the vaccine rollout in the state was 92% but that effectiveness in preventing infection dropped to a 76% to 42% range for those who received the Pfizer vaccine and an 86% to 76% range for those who received the Moderna vaccine. 

“This represents a substantial decline in vaccine effectiveness against infection among those who are most vulnerable, including during months where Delta was the predominant circulating variant,” she explains, adding, “Taken together, you can see that while the exact percentage of vaccine effectiveness over time differs depending on the cohort and settings study, the data consistently demonstrate a reduction of vaccine effectiveness against infection over time."

5. If being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 protects against hospitalizations and deaths, what’s the problem?
The data demonstrate the vaccine effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2 infection is waning, according to Dr. Walensky, who points out, “And even though our vaccines are currently working well to prevent hospitalizations, we are seeing concerning evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness over time and against the Delta variant.”

She notes that international studies, including from Israel, suggest an increased risk of severe disease among those vaccinated early. “Given this body of evidence, we are concerned that the current strong protection against severe infection, hospitalization, and death could decrease in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or who were vaccinated earlier during the phases of our vaccination rollout,” Dr. Walensky advises, as a way to “stay ahead of this virus.”

6. How much will getting a booster shot help protect me against COVID-19?
A lot, according to Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden. “The booster mRNA immunization increases antibody titers by at least tenfold. These are data from Moderna, but Pfizer has announced very similar data,” he said. 

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.