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A third shot? Here's what's at stake if COVID booster vaccine is made available

There is no shortage of vaccine. More than enough, say public health workers, for everyone who wants a third shot to get one.

TAMPA, Fla — This week, the Biden administration is expected to recommend a booster shot for most Americans eight months after they’ve been vaccinated.

“I’ll be first in line. Again, it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. Everybody,” said Al Viviano, who was fully vaccinated in February.

Viviano and lots of folks around his age were among the first to get vaccinated when the shots first became available.

Now, he says, he’s likely to follow a recommendation for a third dose at the eight-month mark.

“Not just for myself, but for others,” he said. “Humanitarian reasons. Ethical reasons. Religious reasons. Think of others, not just yourself.”

“I want to do everything I can to protect myself. I am immunocompromised because I have asthma. And other medical issues,” said Judy Protano, vaccinated since March. “So heck yeah, I want the shot.”

“It’s really kind of more of a third dose of the same vaccine,” said Dr. Michael Teng with the University of South Florida Health.

Dr. Teng says studies have shown the vaccines are extremely effective at reducing severe symptoms or death. But data is limited, he says, on what degree of antibody protection is lost beyond eight months.

“We are focusing on specific populations. Immunocompromised. Elderly, who we know their immune system isn’t as good as it used to be,” he said.

There is no shortage of vaccine. More than enough, say public health workers, for everyone who wants a third shot to get one.

Still, it raises a medical and ethical dilemma. Should people in the U.S. be getting a third dose of vaccine when billions around the world still have not been able to access an initial dose?

“We need an urgent reversal,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Driector General of the World Health Organization.

Dr. Adhanom makes the argument that as long as the rest of the world is at risk for COVID-19, variants will continue to emerge, threatening everyone. Just as the delta variant which originated in India — now overwhelming emergency rooms here.

“And you know, at some point, we might end up with a variant that can start escaping immunity that’s generated by the vaccines,” said Dr. Teng. “And that would be really bad.”

Dr. Teng thinks vaccine policies and messaging need work and should focus on those still unvaccinated.

So far, the booster recommendation is likely to include those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  Experts were still working on a schedule for those who got the J&J shot.

Public health workers are also looking into whether the vaccines could be interchangeable when it comes to getting a booster dose. So far, they’re recommending people stick with the same vaccine they received originally.

“It’s a personal decision,” said Protano, “But I want to protect myself as much as I can.”

“And if we do this all together,” said Viviano. “We will conquer the virus.”

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