116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After federal officials announced plans this past month to distribute COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, some of the first Iowans recently began receiving their third dose.
That includes Erica Earl, a 47-year-old Cedar Rapids resident who received her third shot of the Moderna vaccine on Sept. 3. With the high rate of community spread throughout the county and in Iowa, she said wants to avoid getting sick and potentially passing the virus to someone else.
“It gives me a little more peace of mind,” Earl said.
Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Americans with a compromised immune system take a COVID-19 booster shot as soon as possible.
However, it’s still unclear whether booster shots would be offered to all Americans later this month as some White House officials have announced. Likely, these shots will be offered on a limited basis.
Third shot helps boost immune response against COVID
But with the CDC recommendation, Earl and other at-risk Americans — including those who have weak immune systems or are otherwise vulnerable to COVID-19 — have begun receiving their third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
Earl scheduled her appointment at the Eastern Iowa Health Center, where she works as the marketing coordinator, after her physician recommended the booster shot.
She was diagnosed with Still’s disease, a rare type of inflammatory arthritis, about 14 years ago and takes an injection medication called anakinra to help control the inflammation in her joints.
That medication is an immunosuppressive drug, meaning Earl is at risk of getting a serious infection from the coronavirus.
Research has shown the third shot is needed to boost immunity against the COVID-19, said Dr. Pat Winokur, principal investigator for the University of Iowa portion of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trials.
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Federal health officials published data that shows antibodies from the COVID-19 vaccine decline about eight months after the second shot was administered, meaning a person’s immune system loses its memory of a virus it’s meant to fight.
Winokur said administering that third shot helps the immune system remember the virus. In some people, antibodies from the booster were five times higher than after receiving their second dose.
Nearly every vaccine in use today has a booster dose, Winokur said.
“We recognize that over time, that protection is naturally waning,” said Dr. Ursula Livermore, chief medical officer at Eastern Iowa Health Center. “The science behind those eight months afterward has been published … Once you’re after that window, you’re more vulnerable again and so we have a tool to allow people to afford that protection.”
Federal plan for booster shots still unknown
In mid-August, the Biden Administration announced plans to make the third dose available to Americans by Sept. 20 as part of an effort to shield the population as the highly contagious delta variant has pushed the country into a new deadly phase of the pandemic. The White House's plan was pending approval from the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
However, other federal officials advised the White House this past week to push back the plan and that it may just be limited to those who received the Pfizer vaccines. According to national reports, the FDA only has partial data on the booster doses for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
As of Tuesday, Linn County Public Health had not received any guidance from the state health department on booster shots, local officials said.
A large driver for Earl’s decision to get the third dose was her concern that she could take up a hospital bed at a time when local hospitals are seeing a nearly overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients, she said.
“I think its important for everyone to do their part to hopefully get to a place where we can live our lives,” Earl said.
However, Livermore said she doesn’t anticipate the booster shots would be enough to change the tide of the current pandemic.
As of Tuesday, Linn County Public Health reported 2,449 active cases of COVID-19 and a 15 percent seven-day positivity rate on tests. There were 51 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of this past week.
Livermore also noted that booster shots “are not the whole picture” when it comes to vaccine distribution. She said health care providers need to continue informing and encouraging individuals who are still hesitant to take the shots.
“It's still part of the safety plan to get everyone vaccinated,” Livermore said.
Livermore encouraged everyone who qualifies to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.
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