Doctor says there's 'good evidence' COVID-19 booster shots may not be necessary

"It's important to say public health needs to decide about booster shots, not the heads of these companies making the vaccines," says an infectious disease expert with UCSF.

ByStephanie Sierra KGO logo
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
UCSF doctor says COVID booster shots may not be necessary
Coronavirus vaccine booster shots will soon be here, but will we need them? Here's what one UCSF doctor thinks.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have been proven to be effective for at least six months. Many Californians are just weeks away from reaching that benchmark left wondering, will I need a booster shot?

"No, I don't think so," said UCSF Dr. Monica Gandhi. "We may not need booster shots."

Dr. Gandhi is an infectious disease physician who has been studying preliminary Pfizer data released this month. She says no breakthrough infections have been reported since the initial vaccine trial started nearly ten months ago.

"Anyone who received the vaccine during the trials actually received them in July 2020," she said. "We are not seeing breakthrough infections, even in the setting of surges."

According to the Pfizer data, of the 44,000 people vaccinated, there was high efficacy rates protecting against severe disease at six months.

"This was even including people in South Africa exposed to the B.1.351 variant," Gandhi said.

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As more Americans receive their COVID-19 vaccination daily, many are wondering how long they'll be effective for and whether some people will require booster shots at some point.

Aside from the promising trial data, Gandhi says all three COVID-19 vaccines are also producing a high level of T cell immunity, which is effectively fighting variants.

"I'm very hopeful that we won't need these booster vaccines, but if we do, the technology will make this very easy for us to get them in the future if we have outbreaks pop up," she said.

While Gandhi argues booster shots may not be necessary, experts and public health officials have reported it may still be recommended for added protection.

Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla said publicly last week there will 'likely' be a need for a third dose somewhere between six and 12 months in additional to an annual COVID shot like the flu shot.

"A lot of work is ahead," said UCSF's Chief Pharmacy Executive, Desi Kotis.

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Kotis says she's already preparing for the logistics of how the booster shots would be prioritized, if needed.

"The highest risk healthcare employees started in mid-December, so they will be first," she said. "A lot of it will be timed so it will follow the same timeline."

As far as distribution, Kotis expects pharmacies will become the primary locations for people to access booster shots if and when they are approved.

Pfizer and Moderna have both announced the booster shots will be ready by the fall.

"It's important to say public health needs to decide about booster shots, not the heads of these companies making the vaccines," Gandhi said.

According to Dr. Gandhi, side effects for the booster shots will be less severe due to the antibody response calming down. Gandhi predicts booster shots may add between five to 10 percent of additional protection against COVID-19.