DENVER — As COVID-19 cases rise and hospital capacity dwindles, federal health officials are working to get the public quicker access to booster shots.
For Tom Morris, the booster was a no brainer.
“You get to be 82-years-old, things happen,” Morris said as he filled out paperwork to get his booster at National Jewish Health on Monday. “I have ulcerative colitis, COPD, asthma, high blood pressure.”
Researchers like Dr. Mike Wechsler, professor of medicine at National Jewish, are grateful for test subjects like Morris.
“It’ll be interesting to see whether or not you’ve mounted a response from your prior two shots,” Wechsler said to Morris as they prepared to get a blood sample. “We’re most concerned about a few subgroups: older patients with waning response, those on immunosuppressants who are less likely to make antibodies.”
Wechsler and his team are conducting a study to see how certain patients are responding to the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster. Their research is already revealing.
“About 25% of people whom we’ve checked antibodies have low levels or no levels of antibodies, and so those are the people we’re most concerned about. And then, people with chronic medical conditions, people with lung disease, auto-immune disease, heart disease. Those people are most susceptible to bad effects of COVID to begin with.”
Whether the booster is having a huge impact is still debatable.
What those like Dr. Steve Frankel, pulmonologist at National Jewish, do know is that it is recommended for immunosuppressed individuals.
“Those are people who have had solid organ transplants: kidney transplants, liver transplants, lung transplants,” Frankel said.
The booster is simply another dose of the vaccine.
“It is just another dose of the same stuff,” Frankel said. “But if you think about when you were a kid, that’s how you got vaccines.”
At the moment, doctors recommend getting the same vaccine, not mixing and matching.
“If you received Moderna, it would be a third dose of Moderna,” Frankel said.
For those who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, there’s still no official recommendation on a second dose.
Monday, a CDC panel met to consider booster shots for all eligible Americans. They plan to meet again next month.
The CDC says some people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should get a third dose right now, but only for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
“Well, that’s a bigger question,” Frankel said. “Because if your immune system works pretty well, you’re probably pretty good with the two doses.”
It’s also still unclear whether the booster will be like an annual flu shot.
“It’s a moving target in that sense,” Frankel said. “Is it the kind of thing where every five years they change the formula a little bit and you get another one. Or do you get two or three shots right now and we’re done? We don’t know. It takes more research.”
Which is why Morris is happy to be volunteering for the vaccine responsiveness study at National Jewish.
“I would love to get an antibody test,” Morris said. “I’ve never had one. It’s not about me much because I’m 82 and I could go any minute.”
Right now, it is not clear what the CDC will say about whether vaccinated people should get boosters before travel. Under the current guidance, fully vaccinated people can travel two weeks after their second shot.
For anyone traveling to an area with a high rate of COVID-19 transmission, it is recommended to get a booster and then wait two weeks before traveling.