Those who have received a bivalent COVID-19 booster may be wondering what next steps look like for vaccination and whether they can seek additional protection, especially if they are at a higher risk for severe outcomes.
Vincent Venditto, Ph.D. and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Department, told the Herald-Leader that while the bivalent booster has not been around long enough to have complete information, initial data indicate it provides about four to six months of strong antibody responses.
“We also know that immunity does wane over time,” Venditto said. “We don’t really know at this point exactly how long we’re protected or how long the immune system is really functioning at maximum capacity.”
A recent mathematical model from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Cyprus predicted a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines can provide sufficient protection for more than a year in individuals without certain health conditions by inducing “robustly enhanced” antibody and immune cell-based responses.
“However, the model suggested that for people with suppressed immune responses or those with cancer receiving immunosuppressive treatments, the booster effect may wane fairly quickly. These patients should therefore be given booster vaccines on a more frequent basis,” the Jan. 9 press release from Massachusetts General Hospital said.
For those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at a greater risk for severe COVID-19 complications, Venditto recommends reaching out to your health care provider for specific advice. Immunity timelines vary based on specific health conditions, so it’s best for individuals to get personal health advice from their doctors.
Future of COVID-19 vaccines
The US Food and Drug Administration is considering shifting its COVID-19 vaccination strategy to annual shots rather than inoculation multiple times a year, for those without certain health conditions. Individuals who are at a higher risk for complications may be recommended to receive more frequent vaccinations.
Venditto said he expected this shift and it would make sense if annual COVID-19 vaccines used a bivalent model, like the most recent booster.
“By having both of them (the strains) in there, it really expands the breadth of our immune system so that we are able to respond to many more variants,” Venditto said. “Even if the variant that is circulating is not exactly the same as what’s in the vaccine, the vaccine is still going to provide some protective immunity.”
It’s not clear if and when the FDA will implement this change or when annual COVID-19 shots would be released to the public. Venditto said one option would be to release the annual vaccine at the same time as the flu shot, so people could receive both vaccinations in one pharmacy visit.
Bivalent booster uptake has been slow in Kentucky and across the US, and data indicate the vaccine provides “significant additional protection” against symptomatic infections for those who have also received two to four monovalent vaccine doses.
While President Joe Biden’s administration has announced its plan to end the COVID-19 national and public health emergency May 11 and mitigation strategies look different than they did in 2020, Venditto reminded the public the virus is still present and killing Americans.
“I think it’s really important to note that we are still losing over 3,000 people a week in the United States,” Venditto said. “The pandemic, while it’s, I think, receded in the background for most of us, it’s still very much present.”
The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by getting vaccinated and listening to public health guidelines, Venditto continued.
“I don’t know how you convince people that these vaccines are really protective. They prevent hospitalization, they prevent death and they are designed to keep us safe and healthy,” Venditto said. “If that is not enough to influence somebody to get the vaccine, I really don’t know what is.”
Vaccination information is available online for those in and around Fayette County.
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