Questions arise as officials expected to recommend COVID-19 booster shots

Federal health officials are expected to recommend a COVID-19 booster shot eight months after becoming fully vaccinated, raising many new questions.

Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease specialist with Allina Health, said this recommendation, however, does not mean that vaccines aren’t working.

"These vaccines are very effective in preventing what we care about the most, which is serious illness and death," he said.

Dr. Rhame said data shows antibody levels can drop over time, leading to more breakthrough infections. However, most people remain protected against serious illness.

"That’s important to recognize - while the efficacy against all infection goes down, the efficacy against severe infection didn’t go down, or it didn’t go down by very much," he said.

An Israeli study showed protection dropping more severely in those vaccinated in January - and there’s caution not to get a booster too early.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health has not heard anything official about booster shots, but officials say it won’t be a problem. 

"We don’t have an issue at this point about vaccine availability, so that when there is a recommendation for booster - should we get that official word - there will be plenty of vaccines available for people," said Kris Ehresmann with MDH.

"You can actually do yourself a disservice if you try to get a booster prematurely because you’ll be essentially wasting protective time for the vaccine’s effectiveness," added Jan Malcom, Commissioner for MDH.

Now, many are wondering if there will be a need for routine COVID-19 shots, such as the annual flu shot. Dr. Rhame says the flu viruses constantly change, making it necessary to get regular shots. Now that COVID is changing too, it’s certainly possible.

"Now it’s going to be under evolutionary pressure to evade vaccine, like it wasn’t in the past, so that’s the way evolution works. It’s really quite interesting," Dr. Rhame said.