UNC expert says it’s early to assume a COVID-19 booster will be needed, but good to be prepared

North Carolina

FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 is prepared at a vaccination center of the 3rd district, in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s possible a COVID-19 vaccine booster will be necessary, just as it is with other vaccines. Moderna is readying for that next inoculation by the fall.

It’s too early to know if we’ll need it by then, according to infectious disease expert and professor at UNC School of Medicine Dr. Cindy Gay.

“I think it’s just a little premature because we really don’t have the data yet to show that the booster is needed,” Gay said. “I think it’s better to wait for the data to show what are the antibody responses beyond six months and at one year.”

Gay said it’s reassuring that companies like Moderna will be prepared to make a booster if it’s necessary. To find that out, studies are underway to see how long a vaccinated person’s immunity to COVID-19 lasts and how the antibodies react to any variants.

“If we start to see them wane and decrease, then decrease substantially, then I think that would suggest that we’re going to need to give booster doses. It’s going to be a little bit harder to study how booster doses prevent subsequent re-infection or infection from variants,” Gay said.

Helping this international fight is the fact that researchers and pharmaceutical companies are sharing their findings with each other. Dr. Tony Moody and his team at Duke study vaccine response.

“People are doing sequencing all around the world,” he said. “They’re looking for these variants. Everyone has been really good about depositing them into databases that we can all access. And the CDC and other organizations have put out lists of what are called ‘variants of concern,’ so we can say, ‘Ah, we’re seeing this variant pop up’ and it is something we need to pay attention to.”

That data collection is being used to create vaccines that target specific variants. That means that any booster could come from a different pharmaceutical company than the one that produced a person’s original shot or shots.

“Maybe the booster would be with one of the vaccines that’s targeting those variants, if they’ve already gone through the studies and found to be safe and effective,” Gay said.

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