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The Importance of
the Extra Dose:
Exploring the Vaccine Issue

by Liya Moges

 

On March 29th, 2022, the FDA made an announcement authorizing the release of a second COVID-19 booster shot. This announcement was recently followed by the confirmation of the release of a third, and a possible fourth booster shot. The FDA and CDC’s decision to encourage the public to receive additional vaccinations has been met with several questions, the most common question being, “Why do I need to get a booster shot if I already got the initial vaccine?”

 

In order to answer this question, we need to take a few steps back and understand what a booster shot actually is, and who the target population encompasses.

 

What is a Booster shot? 

The term ‘booster shot’ is just a shorthand term to reference an extra vaccination, or shot, in addition to the original dose administered. It is important to understand the different purposes the original vaccine and booster shot serve. 

The Primary Vaccination

The original (primary) COVID-19 vaccination’s sole function is to teach the body’s immune system how to recognize the virus and how to produce antibodies in order to defend itself.

A perfect metaphor to describe this would be if you needed to put out a fire on your stove. If there was a fire, presumably small enough to be put out, you would rush to grab a fire extinguisher. The instruction label printed on the fire extinguisher then provides you with step-by-step instructions on how to successfully identify and put out the fire. Like this imagined scenario, the initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccination acts as a guide and teaches your body how to recognize and fight off the coronavirus the same way the fire extinguisher label teaches you to recognize and put out the fire.  

The Importance of the Booster

Similarly, while the booster shot aims to rid your body of the virus as well, its direct function differs from the original vaccination because its main goal is not to teach your body how to fight the virus, but to remind the body and its immune system what it is supposed to be fighting against. By getting a second, or third booster shot, you are improving your body’s immune system or immune response in the case that the COVID-19 virus was to infect the body once again or evolve into other variations of the virus.  

 

Who Should get the Booster shot? 

There have been some misgivings about the recent releases of the 2nd and 3rd booster shots as announced by the FDA. Many are under the impression that everyone is required to get the Booster shot, however that is not actually the case.

In recent news, the Mayo Clinic as well as the CDC, have come forward to explain that the recommended recipients of the second and third doses of the booster vaccinations are individuals over the age of 50 years old and individuals who are classified as immunosuppressant, or suffer from a weakened immune system. This isn’t to say that individuals who do not exhibit any of those requirements do not need to take the booster shot, in fact, anyone over the age of 18 years old may receive the additional doses and are encouraged to do so!

 

To answer the long-awaited question….

The reason booster shots are important, to not only the immunocompromised or older individuals, but to younger individuals as well is because it increases the overall herd immunity of the community. Herd immunity is a term that refers to the immunity that groups of people within a community have built up due to vaccinating a large population. By vaccinating yourself with the original COVID-19 vaccination and the corresponding booster shot, you are reducing the risk of exposing others to the coronavirus who are unable to receive the primary or secondary vaccinations. Receiving the booster shot is an additional safety measure that can, not only benefit your immune system’s response to viruses, but can protect others around you who may be at greater risk to the virus, such as the immunocompromised, children, or the elderly.

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Liya Moges is a passionate and dedicated junior studying Biomedical Science, Business, and Law at Georgia State University. She works at Emory University Hospital supporting nurses and physicians on a Complex Medicine floor and uses this opportunity to shadow different physicians in different specialties. She has an interest in health equity which plays a role in Liya’s desire to spread awareness on diversity/inclusion and health equity within healthcare.  

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A Look at the Next Step in
Dealing with COVID-19

by Nikita Amin

As the COVID pandemic has continued, it has become clearer and clearer that any hopes of total eradication may be improbable, as efforts have turned to prevention and minimization of the spread.  This is made even more clear by evidence that a one-and-done vaccine isn’t currently possible: there isn’t currently a promising “universal vaccine” we can look to for that.

 

Since the vaccination process for COVID-19 has been a race against time, a lot of vital information about the virus has not been properly communicated to the public.  Health officials are overburdened with taking care of at-risk-patients and/or attempting to find better treatments and cures to properly divulge all of the nitty gritty details about how the virus works, leaving many to wonder why we need to continue getting booster shots.  The truth of the matter is, that our current vaccines can only at best target a certain strain of the COVID virus, and are unable to successfully fight every single permutation of it.  As the pandemic continues, more and more strains of the COVID virus continue to mutate, such as the Omicron variant (the dominant variant and main concern in the U.S. per the CDC).  To make matters worse, this variant alone has multiple lineages and sublineages.

 

The way that scientists have been able to vaccinate the population against COVID-19 thus far is by specifically targeting the unique outer shell of each virus to be identifiable to biologically engineered antibodies.  This is the same method that is used to develop the yearly flu shot, and also the reason why a new shot is required to re-up immunity for both viruses. 

 

A virus is a set of genes that is surrounded by a unique outer coating of various proteins.  The typical way a vaccine fights against the virus is by increasing production of appropriate antibodies.  Antibodies are a group of proteins that circulate the blood and play a major role in fighting foreign threats the body encounters (antigens), including viruses.  These antibodies work by being able to recognize the foreign substance based on their unique outer shell structure and then knowing to neutralize them.  However, each antibody is specifically produced to match a certain shape that the body knows is a part of a foreign body, and cannot randomly identify cells to destroy without causing damage to the body/immune system. 

 

Since the antigen’s shell changes can change every time a virus mutates, creating a new strain, this gives the antigen a chance to be hidden to the current antigens that the body knows to produce.  This is where “booster shots” come in: in order to keep the rates of COVID-19 low, the general public has to develop immunity against a wide range of virus types, not just their specific regional strains.  While we don’t currently have the panacea to cure all COVID in one fell swoop, by continuing to support science research, ensuring that all populations receive proper vaccination, and quarantining when necessary, we can stop the spread and eventually hope to be rid of the most serious COVID strains that still very much affect our public health and safety.

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Nikita Amin is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia double majoring in Biology and English.  She hopes to go into the biological research sciences, and is passionate about making the academia she is passionate about more accessible.  This is one of her main focuses as a Senior Contributor at Today's Patient, writing articles that make scientific news more readily available to the general public.

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