Virginia, nation prepare for vaccine booster shots

Illustration by Seulgi Smith

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

The delta variant of COVID-19 continues to dominate new cases nationally and locally. With Virginia cases continuing to rise, experts weigh in on distributing booster doses for vaccinated individuals. The increase of cases of the delta variant caused VCU to reimplement its indoor mask mandate before the start of the fall semester.  

VCU Health spokesperson Laura Rossacher stated that the university is continuing to monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on booster shots for the general public. VCU Health will develop a plan to administer booster shots to the general public, once more information is released, Rossacher stated in an email.  

“We will continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as it is our best course of action to curb the pandemic,” Rossacher stated. “With emerging evidence showing that booster shots are warranted to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability, we support CDC guidelines to offer them, starting with immunocompromised people.”

A CDC press release from Aug. 18 announced plans to begin administering booster shots the week of Sept. 20 to all Americans who received a mRNA vaccine. A booster dose is recommended eight months after full vaccination, or two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Boosters would start with the earliest vaccine recipients such as health care workers, senior citizens and those in assisted living homes. Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients are not yet eligible for booster doses. 

“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination,” the CDC announcement stated. “In association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”

Spokesperson Cat Long from the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts said the primary goal is distributing vaccines to those who have yet to receive one.

“The best way to curb the pandemic is for all of us to reach herd immunity and then maintain a high level of immunity through boosters,” Long stated in an email. “We are concerned that despite having enough supply, we have a significant number of unvaccinated individuals in our community.”

A booster vaccine is no different from the original vaccine, according to the CDC. Waning immunity, or decreased protection from COVID-19 over time, raises concern for a needed third dose and effective herd immunity. 

Herd immunity is achieved when a sufficient percentage of a population is immune to the virus and person to person spread becomes unlikely. The exact percentage of vaccinated individuals needed to achieve herd immunity is unknown, but a CDC report from April 2020 suggests 70%.

As of Aug. 24, the seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases is hovering around 2,700 per day in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This number has continued to rise since June, which had cases average around 200 per day.

The primary cause of this surge is the delta variant, according to the VDH. The delta variant is 40-60% more transmissible than the alpha variant, one of the original variants of COVID-19. Evolving data suggests the delta variant can cause more serious illness, and vaccination may be less effective against this variant, according to the VDH.

Preliminary evidence on COVID-19 antibodies shows a reduction in immunity over time, exacerbated by the delta variant, according to a CDC brief from July 27. This could result in breakthrough infections among the vaccinated population.

Computer engineering freshman Knox Butler said because all of his classes have an in-person aspect, he felt that booster shots would be a “prudent measure” in fighting COVID-19, due to the contagiousness of the delta variant.

Butler received the Moderna vaccine in May. He took no issue with the U.S. distributing COVID-19 vaccines to other countries, as they have already committed 600 million vaccines globally for donation, according to the CDC.

“It reminds me of safety briefings on airplanes, where you are always told to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, so that you don’t get yourself hurt while trying to help people,” Butler said.

Western countries have the most access to COVID-19 vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. Western Asia and most of Africa have the lowest percentages of vaccinated individuals; Nigeria has administered 1.92 vaccines per 100 people and Afghanistan has 3.09 per 100 people, while the United States administered 109.12 vaccines per 100 people, according to the WHO.

Members of the VCU community can visit cdc.gov for the latest information on COVID-19 and booster vaccines. 

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