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COVID-19 Booster Shot Could Help Immunocompromised People, CDC Panel Says

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Key Takeaways

  • U.S. health officials are considering making COVID-19 booster shots available for immunocompromised individuals and people aged 65 and above.
  • Studies show that people who are immunocompromised are less likely to create an antibody response after an initial vaccine series, and they could benefit from a third dose.
  • Experts continue to debate whether a booster shot, or a new variant-specific vaccine will be most beneficial to ending the pandemic

U.S. health officials expect people who are older or immunocompromised will need a booster COVID-19 vaccine soon.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory board discussed emerging clinical data on how an additional vaccine dose could enhance antibody response in immunocompromised individuals

Biden administration officials also said that people who are 65 and older or have weakened immune systems will likely need a booster, The New York Times reported.

In early July, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that fully vaccinated individuals are “protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta.” The joint agency statement specifically stated booster shots were unnecessary, but recent data may cause the agency to change its current stance.

A Pfizer preprint study suggested that a third vaccine dose could boost antibody levels, but the study has not been peer-reviewed yet.

Jonathan Baktari, MD, CEO of e7health.com, previously told Verywell that changing guidance often has to do with balancing what’s “scientifically the right thing to do,” versus what is best for public health.

When deciding on whether or not to approve a booster shot, officials are likely weighing the importance between getting more people vaccinated and giving extra immunity to those who are already fully inoculated, he added. 

“If they started this campaign of giving boosters, it could detract from the current campaign,” Baktari said. 

Around 49% of people in the United States are fully vaccinated, according to CDC’s data tracker.

“There's no immediate need for the third dose from a public health point of view,” Baktari said. “But if someone wanted to give me a third dose today, I would take it."

Studies show that immunocompromised people are less likely to produce an antibody response from the COVID-19 vaccine. Transplant recipients receiving anti–metabolite maintenance immunosuppression therapy were much less likely to develop antibody response from an mRNA vaccine, according to a study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Researchers from John Hopkins said 100% of people with normal immune systems develop antibodies after one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 20% of people who are immunocompromised.

Data from the CDC panel showed that among immunocompromised people who did not have an antibody response after an initial mRNA vaccine series, 33% to 50% developed one after a booster dose.

What This Means For You

If you have an immunocompromised condition, like having received an organ transplant, you may qualify for a COVID-19 booster shot soon. Look to the CDC for updates or speak to your healthcare provider about available vaccines and COVID-19 prevention measures.

Earlier in July, a CDC official noted that more research was needed to see if a booster shot would induce more serious side effects than the initial one or two doses. In the clinical study results presented at last week’s CDC advisory meeting, no severe adverse events were reported after vaccination and the symptoms were consistent with previous doses.

Ravi Starzl, PhD, CEO of BioPlx, an advanced microbiomics company developing non-antibiotic methods for the control of infectious disease, told Verywell that he worries that if boosters induce more severe side effects, they will not be effective long term.

If side effects intensify each time someone receives a booster, there will be a “limited runway” for how long boosters can fight the pandemic, he said. Still, he sees another shot—whether a booster or a variant-targeted vaccine—as an essential next step, he said.

“It is just a matter of time until the new variant emerges that undoes all of the good work that we've done in getting to this point, and being able to control hospitalizations,” Starzl said.

Pfizer plans on submitting its data on a third vaccine dose for FDA authorization and is devising a booster to more directly target circulating variants.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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