Why some shots, like the COVID-19 vaccine, need boosters

Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine lined up on a table. (FOX 9)

Health officials are directing people to receive a COVID-19 booster shot amid signs the vaccine’s effectiveness may wear off over time, which is not uncommon among certain vaccines.

One of the reasons doctors are recommending a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is because it’s power to fight against infection appears to be waning.

"But they haven’t lost their power against the things we care about the most: death and serious illness," said Dr. Frank Rhame, an epidemiologist with Allina Health.

Dr. Rhame says that’s an important distinction. Data shows there are far fewer deaths and hospitalizations among those vaccinated against the virus compared to the unvaccinated.

Rhame says since the COVID-19 vaccine, like many other vaccines, does not contain a living version of the virus, boosters are necessary to keep people from getting seriously sick.

"Immunity produced by vaccines that are not living tend to wane more than immunity produced by live weakened viruses like we use for measles mumps rubella (MMR) for instance," he said.

That’s the case for vaccines many of us already have. For example, Minnesota kindergartners are required to have the following vaccines before entering school: five doses of the tetanus vaccine, four doses of the polio vaccine and three doses of the hepatitis vaccine.

Dr. Rhame says while boosters are important, people shouldn’t panic if they’re not able to get third shot exactly eight months after their second.

"If anything we’re doing this earlier than we have to, so if you lose a month or two or five it’s not a big deal," he said.