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Sorting out the confusion with the COVID-19 vaccine booster

Pfizer came out saying the booster is necessary, but the FDA and CDC were quick to respond that it's not needed right now.

CLEVELAND — So what is the deal with this booster shot we're hearing so much about? Do we need one or not?

There are a few things to remember.  First, it's not up to Pfizer or any other pharmaceutical company to say we must have a booster. The government will take in their data and research, but they're also looking at real world data to make the call.  

So why the recent confusion?

"I think the government was just trying not to create panic in terms of people saying 'well Pfizer says we need a booster.' No, what Pfizer says is we need to start looking at boosters and the federal government was saying at this point, people who've been vaccinated don't need one," says Dr. Claudia Hoyen, pediatric infectious disease specialist at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. 

What are we watching for? 

With the Delta variant now making up more than 40% of new cases, the canary in the coal mine is when we start seeing vaccinated people getting sick and needing hospitalization. It's likely the elderly, or first innoculated, like healthcare workers, will be the ones who will need boosters first. 

"To have someone unvaccinated in the hospital is really rare," Dr. Hoyen said. 

Who may need a booster now? Those who were in the clinical trials. It's been nearly a year since their initial doses. These are the people who will help us with the data and University Hosptials will begin booster shots with its trial participants in the next few days. 

Dr. Hoyen said one of the issues that needs to be researched is how many antibodies, also known as titers, are needed to prevent infection. While there are antibody tests available, we don't yet know the "magic number" needed for protection.   

Also, regarding the Israeli study that found the Pfizer vaccine is only 64% effective against the Delta variant, it's important to know they are testing everyone, including asymptomatic people. However, what's more important is that they also found the vaccine is still 93% effective in reducing hospitalizations and severe disease. 

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