Virginia researchers learning more about COVID-19 vaccine strength against variants, need for booster shots

COVID-19 Vaccine

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — If you’re still holding out on getting the vaccine, one Virginia-based researcher urges you to change your mind, and get in line.

Because what’s coming, in the form of the variants, may be worse.

“This happened in the Spanish Influenza (pandemic of 1918). People don’t realize the Spanish Influenza started in America. And the first cases here were mild. As the disease progressed through people, it amplified until we got a more dangerous strain… That happened with the Spanish flu. We’re seeing some of that happen with the UK flu where some of the literature of three or four weeks ago suggests that it might be more deadly than the current one,” said Dr. Aaron Hartman with the Virginia Research Center in Richmond.

Hartman says the good news is that the Pfizer vaccine, which his firm is currently testing on hundreds of volunteers, appears to be effective against the coronavirus variant that originated in the United Kingdom. But he said it appears it’s not yet as effective against the strain from South Africa — with an emphasis on “not yet.”

“Now, with the technology, we can turn around a vaccine within a hundred days,” Hartman said.

Hartman realizes reports of blood clots in a half dozen people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot has scared some away from the vaccine. Hartman says Pfizer had a similar experience in the development stage before the final formula won approval.

“Pfizer and Moderna, we did see clots, cerebral clots in our studies… But I think it was a different time. That was before we had a vaccine,” he said.

No such side effects have been reported with the approved Pfizer vaccine so far.

So, how long will the shot continue to be effective? And, will you need a booster?

“The studies for the vaccines, the Moderna, Pfizer started last summer, so we can’t say it can protect you for years and years, because that data doesn’t exist,” Hartman said. “What I can say today is it appears to be effective for six months. And my hope is that in three more months, I can say it’s effective for nine months.”

Hartman says the vaccine is not 100% of the answer in preventing and recovering from COVID-19. He emphasizes vitamin D — especially for people of color — vitamin C, zinc and clean air. He says all can help prevent a severe reaction should you contract COVID-19.

In addition to testing and monitoring vaccine recipients at the Virginia Research
Center, Dr. Hartman also sees patients at his clinic: Richmond Integrative & Functional Medicine.

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