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Clearing The Confusion About COVID-19 Boosters

A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program. U.K. regulators said Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020, that people who have a “significant history’’ of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine while they investigate two adverse reactions that occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)
Frank Augstein/AP
As the delta variant continues to spread throughout the United States, boosters may offer additional protection as the virus mutates.

The eventual need for booster shots has been a topic since COVID-19 vaccines became available in December. For some, the opportunity to get one is now here.

The CDC has officially recommended that certain immunocompromised people get a booster shot eight months after becoming fully vaccinated. Now, a similar recommendation for the rest of the population is expected to follow.

Gene Olinger, Ph.D., a principal science advisor with MRIGlobal, says the primary reason someone might need a vaccine booster is that coronaviruses are constantly mutating.

"This is what coronaviruses do," explains Olinger. "With coronaviruses that cause the common cold, sometimes you can get the same cold virus within the same year. And, that's because, one, the immune response that you have goes down over time, and then the other is that the virus changes, and this is what we're experiencing with the delta variant."

The introduction of these booster shots has vaccinated people wondering when they might need to get themselves inoculated again.

"Is everybody going to have to get that? I think that's a question we really can't answer, we're really waiting for that data," says Dr. Dana Hawkinson of The University of Kansas Health System. "But certainly, it would not be unusual... if we were to need a vaccine, say, every 12 months or so."

One caller during the segment pondered whether someone could receive a booster for a different kind of vaccine than the one they originally received. Olinger contacted us after the segment to explain that the data on that is promising, but not enough people have been tested for the FDA to approve that option.

Both Olinger and Dr. Hawkinson joined Up To Date to discuss the science behind booster shots and what the next few months of the pandemic might look like.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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