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Will we need COVID-19 booster shots? University of Maryland study considers more vaccinations

Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

As people across Maryland and the country seek their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Jean Armstrong got her third.

The Baltimore County public school administrator was one of the first people to get a pair of shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last May as studies began to test its safety and efficacy. She returned this week to the University of Maryland in Baltimore to help researchers understand whether a booster could continue to keep her from getting seriously sick from the coronavirus.

“I’m a believer in vaccines and think they work, and it’s important to be involved,” Armstrong said of her willingness to be vaccinated again. “It seems like realistically we have to be prepared for boosters and vaccines for variants.”

Researchers and vaccine manufacturers are actively preparing for the possibility that people will need to get another vaccination or regular ones to keep at bay the current coronavirus or a mutated and more nefarious version.

The vaccines now approved for use are considered highly effective at staving off infection, particularly severe infection, but no one knows how long immunity lasts. It’s widely believed that it wanes at least somewhat over time.

And data is beginning to show that the vaccines are at least somewhat less potent against emerging variants. There are several now widely circulating, including ones discovered first in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom. Others with potentially concerning mutations have been logged in the United States in California and most recently in New York.

 

The research seeks to answer some questions and “grease the wheels” for others, said Dr. Kirsten E. Lyke, who is helping oversee the study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health.

Specifically, Lyke, director of the Malaria Vaccine and Challenge Unit, said researchers will look at immunity before and after a booster, which is a regular dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They also will assess how well people tolerate another shot.

Twenty-four hours after her third shot, Armstrong, a Harford County woman in her 40s, said she’s not had side effects except a bit of arm soreness. She had more flu-like symptoms from the first two shots she received last May.

Federal regulators gave the Pfizer vaccine authorization for emergency use in December after a remarkably speedy development period of just months rather than years. It continues to be evaluated for full approvals.

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