Even as delta variant swarms in Louisiana, infectious disease expert says calls for booster shot are 'premature'
BATON ROUGE - The approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December set off a race to vaccinate. Months later, three safe and effective vaccines are abundantly available.
"We're already into a, you know, third, fourth, fifth-generation variant, and the original vaccines are still working so well," Dr. Susan Hassig of Tulane's School of Public Health said.
Hassig, who specializes in epidemiology and infectious diseases, points out the vaccines are doing what they were designed and tested to do: protect against severe cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, and ultimately death.
While breakthrough infections are happening, she says she hasn't seen evidence that shows people are currently in need of more protection, including in the form of a booster shot, right now.
"I think, really, the bottom line for when a booster is necessary is when [the vaccine] is no longer performing at the level of protection that we expect it to do," Hassing said. "And we don't have that evidence."
Pfizer is expected to request emergency use authorization for a third dose this month. Data released by the company last month suggests a third shot provides added protection.
In a statement to WBRZ, the Louisiana Department of Health says third doses are "currently not allowed for under the FDA’s EUA language, and the CDC currently does not recommend it. This may change as new data comes in."
Hassig says if any sector of the population were to need a booster dose right now, it would likely be those with compromised immune systems. Down the road, however, she believes another dose for the general public could be necessary.
"I do think that we will probably, you know, in six months or so, maybe we'll need a booster vaccine," Hassig said. "But it might not be for delta, but for whatever comes next."
As the delta variant accounts for the majority of cases in Louisiana and nationwide, and the state sees what some medical professions have called the darkest days of the pandemic, Hassig says people asking for, or seeking, any additional form of protection is understandable and quite common.
"I think that it's not unexpected, that in this environment where everyone's edgy, because in Louisiana, at least, hospitalizations are so, so extraordinarily high, and that's a really scary place to be," Hassig said. "Sure it would be great to have a better immune response, but we don't need it right now."
For the 37% of residents across Louisiana who are fully vaccinated, Hassig says they should take a deep breath knowing they currently have protection and begin wearing masks again.
"Your vaccine is like an airbag in an automobile," Hassig said. "But you still want to put on a seat belt. And in the case of coronavirus, that is your mask."
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