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“People should not doubt its efficacy”: Health say vaccine safe and effective, despite need for booster shots

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- Federal health officials are preparing to roll out COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection. Dr. Patricia Winoker, an infectious disease specialist and the Executive Dean of the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine, said the third shot is necessary because of the surging delta variant and newly published studies showing t the vaccines' effectiveness is falling.

"That challenges the vaccine more aggressively," Dr. Winokur said. "I think one of the alarming pieces of information is we are starting to breakthrough Covid-19 cases in the elderly, and that was a population that was very devastated in the nursing homes and other long-term care facilities."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans should get a booster shot eight months after they get their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Researchers are still studying the Johnson and Johnson vaccine data and could approve a booster for those who received that shot in the next few weeks.

Winokur said since the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was approved later than the other two, it hasn't been around long enough to know for sure whether or not a booster shot is necessary.

"When they reach that time point, we'll see how good the protection is for them," Winokur said. "I think the very likely possibility is that they will be eligible for a booster dose as well."

Dr. Winokur said the first two doses protect against severe disease and death, but the booster shot will extend that protection.

"I don't think people should doubt its efficacy," Dr. Winocur said. "It is simply that we have learned that the immune response wanes a little bit over time and especially in a pandemic where you'd have lots of viruses circulating."

Winokur said it is possible that COVID-19 booster shots could become an annual occurrence like the flu vaccine, but it is too early to tell.

"We don't know what will happen with the Coronavirus as a whole. Is it gonna keep coming about the way flu does? Or is it going to go into hiding?" Dr. Winokur said. "My guess is that it's here to stay, and it will be one of the diseases that we see within our group of viruses we get exposed to on a routine basis."

In an interview on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports Thursday, Doctor Anthony Facu said the booster shot is so potent you may not need to get one again eight months later. Fauci said it would generate between 10 and 20 times the antibodies.

"A lot of it will be how much of the Coronavirus is circulating in the population? Do we need to keep that antibody level up really high?" Winokur said. "Or is it really now a very uncommon virus that we come in contact with? In which case maybe we won't need boosters, and we will depend on that memory response."

Asked if the need for a third shot potentially sends a mixed message to those not vaccinated, Black Hawk County Public Health Director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said it is not uncommon for a vaccine to need a booster dose.

"We take booster shots for vaccines all the time. Look at the flu vaccine. That's a thing that we do annually," Dr. Egbuonye said. "People should be as proactive and get their vaccine. It is going to be important with what we're seeing the Delta variant and how easily it spreads."

The majority of cases of severe disease, hospitalizations, and death from Covid-19 in Black Hawk County are not vaccinated.

Dr. Egbuonye said she is waiting for the recommendation to get final approval from the FDA and CDC, and the state to release more guidance to public health departments.

"We are eager to get our guidance so that we can also push the communication out to the community," she said.

Dr. Egbounye and pharmacists at Hartig Drug are experiencing an increase in people coming in to get vaccinated. Hartig Drug Pharmacist and Clinical Services Coordinator Rebecca Fitzpatrick said she attributes it to the surge of the Delta variant and increasing awareness of vaccine availability.

"Yesterday, I was working in one of our Wisconsin locations and ended up giving about five walk-in doses, and we had five scheduled for our second doses," Fitzpatrick said. "It was basically double what we were expecting for that day."

She said the pharmacy would typically do one to two in an eight-hour day for the past three months.

This week, Hartig Drug began administering booster shots to those who are immunocompromised or who have pre-existing conditions.

Last week, federal health officials authorized an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for people with weakened immune systems to protect them from the virus better.

Millions of Americans who take immune-suppressing medicines because of organ transplants, cancer, or other disorders are now eligible for a third shot.

The booster doses will be available to the general public beginning the week of September 20. President Biden is expected to announce a plan for administering booster shots around the U.S.

In a matter of weeks, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected to receive full FDA approval. Dr. Winokur said she thinks Pfizer will be approved by mid-September.

"There were no steps skipped in making sure this is a safe and effective vaccine," Dr. Winonkur said. "People should trust this vaccine. We have a lot of data and each step of the way. We have shown that it is effective and very safe."