Do We Really Need Another Booster Shot?
Vaccine hesitancy is real. After two vaccination shots and a booster, a total of three shots against Covid, do we really need another shot?
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the new White House Covid response coordinator, told Boston.com, (“Dr. Jha talks BA.2 variant — and his new White House gig”), that “getting those first two shots plus that booster, that third shot, that’s the most critical thing, that’s how we protect lives. That’s how we keep people out of the hospital. The data on the fourth shot, I’ve got to still examine it. We all have to look at it more carefully. We want to see the full set of data and then make a decision after that.”
According to Dr. Ben Neumann, Professor of Biology and Chief Virologist of the Global Health Research Complex, Texas A&M University, the booster shot recommended to fight the new BA.2 variant has only been tested on monkeys.
At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on 8th April 2022, he explained that the distinction between variants is arbitrary. “When a particular group of related viruses is associated with many new cases, it is sometimes described as a new variant. The distinction is nominal. Each variant is more like a cloud of related but somewhat genetically distinct viruses.”
However, people are reluctant to get another shot. As the country returns to business as usual, public perception is that the pandemic has entered a milder phase and less virulent strains of the Covid-19 are now in circulation.
“Some people have serious doubts about getting a second booster, because they feel we already have gotten three shots; and the cases have dropped so they don’t see the need,” said Dr. Ben Neumann. There is a great urge to return to the old normal.
The arrival of another variant will not persuade Leila Singh to take the booster. “Enough is enough,” says eighty-seven-year old Leila Singh, a retired nurse practitioner.
“We have taken three shots and we are good.” Singh does not plan to take the fourth shot. Her 59-year-old daughter, Pelle agrees with her.
Frequent business traveler Deepak Nayar is not lining up to take the next booster shot, even though he is eligible.
“Many people I know have had a milder version of Covid. That should have boosted their immunity in any case,” he said.
That worries scientists like Dr. Neuman “The idea that anyone has an immune system strong enough to fight the virus and yet will break under the vaccine is the weirdest thing I have heard from a scientific perspective,” he said .
“The current outbreak is burning at a steady level. Some see it as a small fire, but it could get out of hand. I would not like us to fall into the same hole twice.”
Booster shots enhance antibodies in the body’s immune system that we depend on to fight the virus.
But antibodies are only one component of our immune response, said Dr. Monika Gandhi, Professor of Medicine at UCSF/ San Francisco General Hospital.
“Antibodies will wane with time, but your memory B cells and T cells will make more,” she explained, adding that memory B cells and triggered antibodies have the ability to respond to variants.
“In people whose immune systems are strong, natural immunity or vaccination generates B cells that go into memory and then they produce antibodies directed against variants they see.”
Dr. Manisha Newasker, Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford Children’s Health, advised parents of the very sick children she treats, to be extra cautious.
“My patients are more susceptible to catching the virus. Their parents have to be especially careful.
“With regard to masks, they are not mandatory but if family members are immunocompromised, then I advise all family members to wear masks. The same applies to vaccines,” said Dr. Newasker.
The elderly and people with underlying conditions should get a booster to mitigate the risk of infection added Dr. Newasker.
“If you are above the age of 60 or immunocompromised the answer is clear. You should get the booster.”
She urged people who were hesitant about vaccine safety to get guidance from their doctors and trusted sources.
“I think it is difficult to predict the long-term course of the pandemic, except to say that this virus will grow anywhere that it can, and anywhere that we let it,” cautioned Dr. Ben Neuman. “Our gains have been impressive, but they are temporary, and can be undone easily if we fail to knock the virus out completely. The one variable we can control is what we do.”
Ritu Marwah is a feature writer based in Silicon Valley. A Winner of the Taste of Silicon Valley contest she is a gourmand in all things wine, food, and travel. Whether for work or play, she never tires of exploring California wine country. Ritu’s other work: Kamasutra Wine, BBNC Indian Cooking Meetup with Ritu Marwah.