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Ask the Pharmacist with Harry Webb

This segment originally appeared in the Shopping Guide News of Fulton County on 12/21/2021

 How long will the booster shots be required? More than once?

 

Our pharmacy team gets asked this question every day.  In the future, the booster shot will likely be considered a third dose.  Future protocols may call for 3 or maybe 4 vaccinations.  Determining a vaccine protocol takes time.  With this pandemic raging across the globe, scientists had to develop these protocols in real time.  Many vaccines used today for prevention of other diseases require 3 or more doses to get the immune system primed to respond quickly.

There are four types of immunity. The type of immunity that vaccines stimulate is the type that is called active or adaptive immunity. Adaptive immunity means your immune system is adapting to new foreign invaders not seen before. Adaptive immunity requires a layered approach to mount a strong attack on an invading virus. Healthy immune systems produce a few different types of immune cells that develop when exposed to a vaccine or a virus. Vaccines introduce a foreign   protein to your body’s immune cells. These immune cells then create ways to attach to and eliminate the foreign protein. With the Covid-19 vaccine specifically, the cells develop ways to attach and target the foreign spike protein that is a key part of the coronavirus.

If the virus is detected, immune cells multiply in large numbers to attack the invading Covid-19 virus and eliminate the invader.  A healthy immune system will produce large numbers of immune cells on demand - only if needed. Thus, a few months after exposure, their numbers decrease naturally. However, healthy immune systems will continue to produce a few protective cells that continuously circulate in your body, looking for past foreign invaders. With each exposure or additional vaccination, your immune system gets more robust and responds faster. 

It is important to realize immunity is not an absolute block from getting an infection.  Especially if it has been several months since that foreign invader has been seen. If you are exposed to Covid-19 virus by an infected person for an extended period, the number of viral particles that you breathe in can number in the millions. With only a few guards at the gate, it is common for the virus to get into the body and start replicating.  But because your immune system has seen this invader before, it can quickly jump into action and produce millions of fighting cells that neutralize the viral invader.  Therefore, most vaccinated people getting exposed to Covid can fight it off without the need for hospitalization.  But they will feel sick and be contagious for a few days.

With the holidays approaching and indoor gatherings occurring, active cases will continue to increase. This winter almost everyone will be exposed to one of these active variants. Getting the vaccine and the booster dose is your best way to minimize the impact this exposure will have on your health.  In our country, the highly contagious Delta variant has been the dominate viral strain since late summer. But the new Omicron variant seems to be 3 times more contagious than Delta. Some believe that it may be as contagious as the measles virus. Cases of Omicron are doubling every 2-4 days and soon could become the dominate strain.  United Kingdom researchers recently stated that people who are vaccinated and boosted were 85% less likely to develop severe illness from the highly mutated Omicron strain.  But currently only 30% of US residents, that received the initial vaccine, have received a booster dose.

If hosting a holiday gathering with unvaccinated friends and family

  • Get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible, even if you have had a previous case of Covid-19
  • Have all unvaccinated guests get a rapid test a couple days before your event, home test kits are available at some pharmacies, grocery stores and online.
  • Wear face masks if status is unknown.
  • Ventilation is key, open windows and circulate air
  • If warm weather persists, it is safest to hold the event outside or in an open garage.
  • If you have any symptoms and aren’t tested - stay home and avoid others until you have a negative test.

 

If everyone is fully vaccinated and boosted amongst your friends and family your risks appear to be minimal.

There is certainly a lot of pandemic fatigue.  We are all tired of these restrictions. Everyone wants to get back to normal. This all seems harsh and it’s easy to brush off this restrictive recommendation and consider it an overreach. But taking precautions will prevent illness, hospitalization, long term side effects and death. Its important to protect the vulnerable.

Will another vaccine dose be required in the future?

Only time will tell.  Scientists are monitoring immune responses in those who have been boosted. If your immunity levels drop and active infections in our communities stay high, then an additional booster may be necessary.  Additionally mutated strains may make the vaccine less effective. Vaccines may need to be tweaked to attack the mutated strain.

Many thought this pandemic had run its course this summer.  New variants have emerged. Large numbers of unvaccinated people around the world continue to become ill and spread the virus. It is frustrating to see so many get severely ill locally when there is plenty of safe and highly effective vaccine available for free.

I strongly recommend everyone age 5 and older get fully vaccinated and, in most situations, get a booster dose when it is recommended.

To find your preferred vaccine in your county you can do any of the following:

For a vaccination at a Webb’s Family Pharmacy location, go to WebbRx.com to schedule your shot.

 

I appreciate the publication of this article by The Shopping Guide News of Fulton County and on fultoncountypost.com.  If you found it helpful, please check out previous issues or go to the blog section of www.WebbRx.com to read answers to other pandemic related questions.

Harry R Webb, Pharmacist

Webb’s Family Pharmacy

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