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Eastern Carolina infectious disease expert addresses concerns over booster shots

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 7:52 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to discuss the expansion of booster shot eligibility to all adults over 18 years old on Friday.

This means another advancement in the distribution of COVID-19 booster shots could be made this weekend.

Nearly 78% of the nation’s population could be eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster shot. With the expansion, comes new concerns for those who could soon be eligible for the additional jab.

Some have already made up their minds, like Rachel Hayes of Greenville, who said, “I’ll be getting mine as soon as I can.”

Others aren’t so sure.

“I won’t get one for a while. I still have plenty of antibodies,” Jess Martin, also of Greenville, said.

Jenny Whitley, of Kinston, said, “I am fully vaccinated, but I do not think that I will take the booster because I’m trusted that the first two shots worked.”

Dr. Paul Cook, an infectious disease expert with the Brody School of Medicine, weighed in on some of the common concerns among Eastern Carolina residents.

“What we have to detect immunity now is antibodies. What we clearly know is that antibodies are not the full story and are, in fact, somewhat misleading. There is what we call the cellular immune system which is much more difficult to measure, but it can be done. And it appears that the cellular immunity is probably adequate after two doses. There is a benefit with the third dose, but it’s not a big change.”

Dr. Paul Cook, Brody School of Medicine infectious disease expert

The boosters act differently for those who are currently eligible to receive them.

“Clearly the boosters are beneficial to persons who are older, and compromised with immune conditions,” Cook said.

As for otherwise healthy adults, Cook said, “There is some data that suggests that the immunity drops off a little bit-- not completely-- but a little bit over time.“

As part of Pfizer’s case for expanded eligibility, it submitted early results of a booster study in 10,000 people which found that a booster could restore protection against symptomatic infection up to about 95 percent.

“There is some basis for recommending booster shots after six months,” Cook said. “So, is this going to be a game-changer? I’m not so sure, but I think it’s not a bad idea.”

Side effects are a concern for those considering a booster shot.

Because in his position he deals with COVID-positive patients daily, Cook received his additional dose. He uses his experience and research to address the concern about side effects.

“What we see in the literature and what I’ve experienced anecdotally suggests that if you had a side effect, usually a sore arm, or maybe a low-grade fever or flu-like symptoms after usually the second dose, you might expect to see that after a booster. But I haven’t heard or seen that the side effects are worse with the third dose.”

Dr. Paul Cook, Brody School of Medicine infectious disease expert

The CDC has authorized the mixing of booster brands. If someone has a preference based on the side effects and still wants an additional dose, they can decide which vaccine to choose.

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