As state leaders continue to push to get more people vaccinated, there’s still a lot of confusion for those who have already gotten the shots and for parents of young children who can’t get vaccinated.
News on the coronavirus vaccines has been moving quickly. Federal regulators have been debating when people should get booster shots. New data recently showed the Pfizer vaccine to be safe and effective in children as young as 5.
Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist with UNC Health, spoke with Spectrum News 1 to unpack some of the latest information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Who can get booster shots now?
As of right now, only people with severely compromised immune systems, like people who have had organ transplants, are eligible for booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine, Wohl said.
What about everyone else?
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently looking at research and debating when more people should get booster shots.
“With the COVID-19 vaccines, we don’t really know for sure exactly when the immunity we get, the protection we get, starts to wear off. On the other hand, we don’t want to wait too long to start seeing it wear off and people who are fully vaccinated start to getting sick enough to be hospitalized,” Wohl said.
“There’s this balance of trying to figure out what’s the right moment to try to boost people before they start becoming vulnerable,” he said.
Wohl said we should learn more in the coming days about FDA approvals for booster shots for more people. It could be more of a phased approach to boosters, rolling out third shots first to older people or health care workers, similar to the original vaccine rollout.
What about booster shots for people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
“I feel really disappointed with the messaging from the FDA and the CDC for people who got Johnson & Johnson,” Wohl said. “The FDA and the CDC aren’t really talking about what to do with the folks who got J&J.”
Johnson & Johnson released new data Tuesday showing that adding a booster shot increased the vaccine’s effectiveness to 94%.
“Our large real-world-evidence and Phase 3 studies confirm that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong and long-lasting protection against COVID-19-related hospitalizations," said Dr. Mathai Mammen, with Janssen Research & Development, which developed the J&J shot.
"Our single-shot vaccine generates strong immune responses and long-lasting immune memory. And, when a booster of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is given, the strength of protection against COVID-19 further increases,” Mammen said in a statement.
Will young children be able to get vaccinated?
Pfizer recently released a new studying showing its vaccine is safe and effective in children 5-11 years old. Currently, the vaccine is only approved for people 12 and older.
Wohl said he expects to see FDA approval for vaccinating younger children in the next month or two.
Why should kids get the COVID vaccine?
“There’s a vulnerability right now in that kids under 12 are not vaccinated,” Wohl said. “Delta is really getting a lot of kids sick.”
Wohl said parents will likely have a lot of questions and debate over vaccinating children.
“Most kids are going to do fine with COVID-19, they’re not going to end up in the ICU. Some do. We’re seeing that there’s a run on beds right now in pediatric ICUs, driven by COVID,” he said.
“Even if your kid is one of the vast majority of kids who get COVID-19 and don’t get really sick, it looks like there might be a proportion who get long COVID symptoms,” he said.
Based on what he know about how the vaccines work, Wohl said, they should prevent kids from suffering from long-COVID symptoms.
“That could be really devastating to a young mind and a young body,” he said. “If I had a really young kid, I would be interesting in vaccinating them.”
What about possible side effects?
“Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle and we do see that in some people getting the vaccine,” Wohl said.
But studies have shown that developing myocarditis is a very low risk, what Wohl called “a handful in 100,000” for people who have gotten the vaccine. He said people are at more risk of developing myocarditis from COVID itself.