SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The surge of the coronavirus Delta variant may be slowing in the Bay Area but public health experts caution this strain has increased the need for a booster shot among the vaccinated.
Newly-released federal data confirms vaccine-induced immunity is waning.
The White House coronavirus task force expressed concern that breakthrough infections among the fully-vaccinated, which are now mild or moderate, may worsen.
“If we start to see hospitalizations among people with normal immune systems who’ve been vaccinated — if those hospitalizations start to go up — that will be a signal,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner.
To stay ahead of the virus, the Biden administration made a judgment call: all adults 18 years and older will be eligible to get a booster shot eight months after their second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
“I have no doubt that — if you receive a booster — that your immune response is going to bump up significantly,” said infectious disease specialist and vaccine researcher Dr. Stephen Thomas from SUNY Upstate Medical Center.
Pending approval by the FDA and the CDC, the program begins Sept. 20.
KPIX 5 heard from local Bay Area health departments and the California Department of Public Health and they are all waiting for details about the booster program.
“When boosters become available, there will be a demand for them,” said Dr. Matt Willis, who is the public health director for Marin County.
“We’ve already seen an increase in our web traffic, most likely looking to see if they can already schedule their appointment for a booster,” added Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
When the vaccines first rolled out, the demand far outstripped supply. Viewers may remember how the early days felt chaotic and confusing. There were reports of people gaming the system and jumping in line.
Dr. Willis said that he believes this time will be different.
“The boosters when they come on board is going to be a single dose. It’s going to be a lot easier and we already have the infrastructure in place,” Willis said.
One detail to be determined: where to administer the booster shots.
Dr. Tong is confident in what Santa Clara County has already shown it can do,
“I think we proved that, as an entire county including the county-operated sites, the retail pharmacies and the health care providers, we can be very nimble to quickly reach above and beyond the vaccination targets,” Dr. Tong said.
A big plus for all venues, especially smaller ones, is a recent FDA action allowing the Pfizer vaccine to be stored in a regular refrigerator for up to a month.
“It makes it more realistic that you can go to your doctor’s office perhaps and get vaccinated or to a clinic,” said UC Berkeley’s infectious disease expert Dr. John Swartzberg.
If the FDA approves and licenses any of the COVID vaccines and if your doctor determines a patient should not wait any longer, he or she may also prescribe the booster shot before the eighth month.
“A doctor can prescribe it for anything he or she wants to,” explained Dr. Swartzberg.
Experts warn that booster shots alone won’t end the pandemic.
“Is the juice worth the squeeze on that right now? I’m not so sure,” said Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas said that more Americans need to get vaccinated than boosted at this point. He said that includes young people under 12.
“It’s certainly not going to move the ‘Hell no I’m not taking your vaccine’ folks but it might move the ‘I’ll do it if I have to,” Dr. Thomas said.
At Lafayette Park in San Francisco, KPIX interviewed people out enjoying the day. All of them said they would like to get a booster shot but would want the rest of the world to get enough vaccines so that they, too, had a chance.
“I don’t have any objection to (boosters) once they’re freely available to everybody,” said Greg Priest.
“Essential workers, health care workers and anyone else who is more vulnerable but sign me up!” remarked Emily Cole. She was thrilled to be outside at a child’s birthday party and she credited the vaccine as well as social distancing and masking.