5 pharmacy execs respond to vaccinated patients' worries they're no longer protected against COVID-19

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The U.S. laid out its COVID-19 vaccine booster plan Aug. 18, saying it is ready to roll out third doses in late September. Some public health experts think the announcement may have been premature, claiming it could send the wrong message by leading fully vaccinated people to believe they're no longer strongly protected against COVID-19.

Below, five hospital pharmacy executives share what they would tell a fully vaccinated patient who voiced that concern:

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Amir Emamifar, PharmD. Chief Pharmacy Officer at Temple University Health System (Philadelphia). Immunity is a multi-factorial and it is not just about the number of antibodies to a specific virus that you have in your bloodstream. So, there’s no easy way to measure if your immunity to COVID-19 is fading, particularly if you’re healthy. New research indicates that the protection the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) create against COVID-19 might fade after several months.

It’s important to note that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are incredibly effective. But a third dose would further strengthen immunity against the virus. Please continue to be safe and if you aren't already, get vaccinated now.

Joel Hennenfent, PharmD. Chief Pharmacy Officer at Truman Medical Centers (Kansas City, Mo.). It is important to share that fully vaccinated patients are still safe. Emerging data shows fully vaccinated patients are still well protected from severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. It is important for those that are immunocompromised, as defined by the CDC, to receive a third dose to achieve the same degree of protection as those who are not immunocompromised. The thought behind a "booster for all" approach in the coming months is to try to get ahead of the possible downstream effects of the Delta variant and waning immunity against mild and moderate infections that can occur with time.

Kuldip Patel, PharmD. Senior Associate Chief Pharmacy Officer at Duke University Health System (Durham, N.C.). My recommendation would be to follow the advice of the expert healthcare providers. Patients have trusted and relied on healthcare professionals to help keep them free of illness, pain and suffering for hundreds of years. Patients must maintain the trust in this relationship, especially as we live through this evolving pandemic. As we continue to learn from the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine efficacy studies, adjustments are being made to ensure that patients are kept safe while being protected from the risks associated with the infection, one of which includes death.  

While it is true that vaccine efficacy wanes over time, this is not a new development. Most vaccines have a window of time during which they provide us the immunoprotection from the respective infection or disease. Booster doses and schedules for the COVID-19 vaccines are developed similarly to how other vaccine schedules have been developed, to ensure that we maintain and prolong the immunoprotective effects of the vaccine when it begins to wane. Not doing so will undoubtedly increase the risk of contracting the infection. I encourage all Americans to follow the advice of healthcare experts and follow the latest vaccine and therapeutic guidelines to protect themselves and the community from an evolving pandemic that continues to take so many lives.  

Tim Lynch, PharmD. Chief Pharmacy Officer at Multicare Health System (Tacoma, Wash). The COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving situation and we continue to learn more about newer variants and how best to adapt our response. While the goal of vaccine development was to fully protect against COVID-19 infection from the novel coronavirus and potential variants, the reality is that like most other vaccines, it is not fully effective in preventing vaccinated patients from becoming infected.  

Despite this, there is substantial evidence that COVID-19 vaccines minimize the severity of infection and reduce the potential of hospitalization and death. COVID-19 vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself from the virus, and also those around you who might not be able to get the vaccine.

Linda Tyler, PharmD. Clinical Professor at the University of Utah's College of Pharmacy and former Chief Pharmacy Officer at University at Utah Health (Salt Lake City). When the COVID-19 vaccines were first available, we knew a two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (one dose for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) would be needed to provide the best protection against COVID-19. What we didn’t know is how long that protection would last. Researchers were carefully monitoring this. We now know that our protection starts to decrease at about 6-8 months. 

By giving the booster dose, we can keep our protection levels high. Receiving this booster dose this fall becomes very important to continue to keep our protection levels as strong as possible. Being immunized to get the strongest protection possible is the best way to decrease the spread of COVID-19. 

We still don’t know if we will need even more booster doses over time to keep our protection as strong as possible. Researchers will continue to monitor this as well.


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