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Pfizer, Moderna study the potential benefits of creating a booster for their 2-dose vaccines

The studies by both pharmaceutical companies are just getting underway.

Posted: Feb 4, 2021 10:52 PM

On a blustery Thursday afternoon, the vaccine clinic at John Hunt Park in Huntsville was wrapping up another day of vaccinations, with hundreds coming in and out to get a dose of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Among them was Diana Hankey Underwood. She brought her 93-year-old mother, Carol, in for her first dose Thursday morning and was returning that afternoon with her husband so that they could get their shots.

Diana Hankey Underwood's husband, Robert Sorrell, posing after getting his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at John Hunt Park on Thursday, February 4, 2021. The two took Diana's 93-year-old mother, Carol, to get her first shot earlier that day. Diana Hankey Underwood's husband, Robert Sorrell, posing after getting his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at John Hunt Park on Thursday, February 4, 2021. The two took Diana's 93-year-old mother, Carol, to get her first shot earlier that day.

She said that day was one they had anxiously awaited.

"It was her first dose, yeah. She's been looking forward to getting it for a while. She was hopeful that getting the Pfizer vaccine that she would not have any symptoms and so far she hasn't. It didn't even hurt her. She says she didn't feel it going in, so yay the nurse!" Hankey Underwood exclaimed.

While the nurse practitioner was eager to get her first shot and schedule the second, when it comes to the prospect of getting a third dose, she said she would need a lot more information.

"I'm not sure what we'll do with that one for my mother. Besides that, two will probably be enough because we don't go out very much. So, for a 93-year-old, I probably won't. For myself, I'll have to give it very serious consideration and really look at the data," Hankey Underwood said.

Others at the park that day, like Andrew Harper, a reproductive endocrinologist who was getting his first dose on Thursday, said they too would trust the data when it's published.

"I'm in medicine, but I'm in no way a virologist, infectious disease epidemiologist, but if they recommend it, for sure, I'd get it," Harper said.

Dr. Neil Lamb, the vice president of educational outreach for HudsonAlpha, said the studies around a potential booster for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are like watching science happen in real time. 

He argued that even while these are being contemplated as a way to combat the mutating strains of COVID-19, he said this research shouldn't deter people from getting the vaccines that are available now in their current two-dose form.

"It doesn't mean that they aren't doing their job. They are doing a tremendous job, but as the virus acquires new changes, these boosters will actually help catch those specific changes and strengthen that immune response specifically for those new variants," Dr. Lamb said.

Pfizer said this week that the booster would be administered six months to a year beyond the initial shot. Dr. Lamb said he thought that may be based more on the supply chain of the vaccines.

"The data I've been reading have been suggesting that we might be looking at boosters at the end of the summer or the beginning of fall, but that might not be because that's the most logical time to deliver them versus that's when we think they would first be available," Dr. Lamb said.

He added that depending on if the boosters are deemed to be a good idea, down the road, they could supplement the second dose and allow the patient to only take two shots.

"This is speculation because we don't have those, but I think it's possible that you could see that combined together so that you wouldn't need a third dose. Your second dose would contain the information, would contain the vaccine necessary to deal with the existing virus and the new variants," Dr. Lamb said.

Back at John Hunt Park, Hankey Underwood said having a more expansive vaccine, like the Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) for children, could be very useful. 

"We might get to where we can do that, where every few years, you could have one that covers a lot of strains, but we'll see. I hope the companies continue to do what they need to do with it," Hankey Underwood said.

According to a Monmouth University Poll published on Wednesday, 50 percent of the public said they would take the currently available vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them. That's in addition to the 6 percent surveyed who said they had already received it.

24 percent said they would never get the vaccine, if they can avoid it.

Broken down by political ideology, 64 percent of Democrats said they would get the vaccine as soon as possible, compared to 46 percent of Independents and 35 percent of Republicans.

42 percent of Republicans said in the poll that they would likely never get the vaccine, compared to 25 percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats. 

Dr. Lamb said in order to get the virus under control, the public needs to continue mitigation efforts and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"Finding someone new to infect is how you begin to develop those new mutations. So, if we can stop it in the act, then we will slow the spread and ultimately we'll continue to gain the upper hand" Dr. Lamb said.

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