The vaccines created to protect individuals against the COVID-19 virus have been controversial across the nation since they were made available to the public in December 2020. Currently, there are three different vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen/J&J.
The Pfizer vaccine is FDA approved for emergency use for those five years of age and older, which consists of two doses. Studies have shown a 90.3% vaccine effectiveness rate against hospitalization for children age 5-11 and a 93% vaccine effectiveness rate for those age 12-18.
The Moderna vaccine is FDA approved for emergency use for individuals 18 years of age and older, and consists of two doses, as well. The Moderna vaccine has been found to have a 93% vaccine effectiveness rate against hospitalization in some studies.
The Janssen/J&J vaccine is also FDA approved for emergency use for those 18 years and older and consists of only one dose. There were issues with the J&J vaccine and its side effects, but that issue has been resolved since and the vaccine is now approved for emergency use. The J&J vaccine has the lowest vaccine effectiveness rate at around 71% from research studies.
Some are skeptical of the vaccines for various reasons. For example, some believe the vaccines were created too quickly and therefore will have unpredictable, serious effects on their body. Individuals who do not support the vaccines might also feel this way because they are not fully approved by the FDA.
Others are more willing to get the vaccine, such as frontline workers who continued to work face to face with the virus during the heaviest times of the pandemic. The vaccines have been proven to decrease severity and therefore hospitalization due to the virus.
Vaccines can create herd immunity, or protection of the community from diseases when a large portion of the population is immune. Even though the United States has not reached that point with COVID-19, the greater number of vaccinated people lessens the likelihood for individuals to contract and spread the virus.
However, the vaccine does not ensure that one will not catch the coronavirus. Vaccinated individuals are more immune to the virus than unvaccinated individuals, but they are still able to contract it, although most breakthrough cases are mild.
New information arising about the coronavirus has encouraged health experts to make booster shots available to vaccinated individuals. A booster shot is an additional dose of vaccine that helps increase, or boost, protection given by the original shot once protection has started to decrease over time.
Experts are starting to see evidence of reduced protection among those initially vaccinated, which is where the booster shots come into play. Each type of vaccine has a booster shot available, which are the same formulation as the vaccines. The Moderna booster shot is a little bit different as it is half of the dose received from the original dose.
“Booster shots are recommended to help maintain a higher level of immunity against COVID-19 infections. Several studies have shown that immunity begins to wane 6-9 months after the initial shots,” said Karen Vorsteg, a nurse practitioner in Columbia, Maryland.
“What the studies have found is that for patients receiving active chemotherapy, greater than age 65, and those on medications which cause them to immunocompromised do not make antibodies as long from the initial vaccines, these are the ones that need a booster vaccine. This gives them an increased load of antibodies in their system and better protection,” said Jordan Braniff, a nurse practitioner in Berlin, Maryland.
“Just like you need a yearly ‘booster dose’ of influenza or tetanus booster every 10 years, it protects you and protects the community from outbreaks of disease,” said Vorsteg.
Additionally, some individuals have raised the question of whether to get the booster shot for the original vaccine they received or if there would be any benefit to mixing vaccines.
“Currently the data supports that if you have had one mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), you can have either as a booster. I do find most people get a booster shot of the brand they started with. If you received the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine, you must have a booster of Johnson and Johnson,” said Braniff in response to the question.
Whether you are vaccinated or not, there is data to suggest vaccines have been effective against hospitalization and the severity of symptoms surrounding COVID-19. Recently released booster shots have been proven to help maintain immunity provided by the original vaccines. It is important that individuals continue to do what they can to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
Information about signing up for vaccines and boosters is available from the Jefferson County Health Department, WVUMedicine, and the Maddex Square Walgreens. As of Nov. 19, 70 percent of Shepherd commuter students and 79 percent of resident students were vaccinated, according to the Shepherd Covid Dashboard. Students who are vaccinated are asked to register their vaccinations here. This site also contains helpful information about getting vaccinated.