The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 17, 2021 1:00 am


Worth a shot?

Sorting out conflicting info on COVID boosters

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

While doctors and public health experts continue pleading with unvaccinated Hoosiers to get their shots, attention from residents who did the right thing months ago has shifted to COVID-19 vaccination boosters.

About 54% of Indiana residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and the number is only slightly higher – about 56% – in Allen County. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month approved extra doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for fully vaccinated people in some situations.

“The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immuno-compromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.”

So who can get one? When?

The answers are complicated. But most of us probably shouldn't rush to our doctor's office or neighborhood pharmacy for a third shot just yet.

Why not?

There are regulatory hurdles to clear and conflicting reports on the effectiveness of boosters.

The FDA has signed off on extra shots for those with moderately or severely compromised immune systems. But Woodcock also has cautioned against seeking boosters on your own and to wait for further government regulatory action determining whether they're safe and necessary.

Indiana Department of Health officials agree.

“People should talk to their health care provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them,” the agency's website says.

What are some conditions under which someone would be eligible and can get additional shots?

The state's website lists several specific situations, including patients undergoing cancer treatment and those who have had an organ transplant and are taking medication to suppress their immune system. Patients taking cortico-steroids or who have advanced or untreated HIV also are on the list.

What should you do if you received a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination?

It's not clear, according to Dr. Michael Toole, a Parkview oncologist.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports there is currently insufficient data to make recommendations about receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations after initially receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccination,” he wrote in an article published online by the hospital. “... At this time, we would not recommend an additional vaccination for immunosuppressed patients that initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccination.”

What about the general population?

A review published this week in The Lancet says boosters can help those with weakened immune systems, but they're not yet needed for everyone. None of the data so far on COVID-19 vaccines provide “credible evidence” supporting extra shots for everyone, the review says.

On the other hand ...

“Data from Israel suggest that booster doses enhance protection against infection,” says a New York Times story on Monday about the review. “But that evidence was collected just a week or so after the third dose and may not hold up over time, the experts said.”

What happens now?

Talk to your doctor and be on the lookout for updated federal guidance.

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