It is still not clear just how much acquired immune protection from breakthrough COVID-19 infections is enough to ward off future infection, or whether the virus might mutate in ways that evade even bolstered immunity. T cells and B cells that have encountered viruses are said to have “immune memory” because the cells offer more durable protection. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC), shared that while there has not been a lot of focus on immune memory, it critically important for any vaccine, and knowing how the vaccine protects six to 12 months after administration may be the most important thing to know. Barouch added that people who have been vaccinated and had a breakthrough infection still need to be cautious by adhering to public health guidelines.
New data on the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 confirms that booster doses are most beneficial to older adults, as opposed to younger Americans, the CDC reports. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) shares his opinion, stating that he is in favor of boosters, yet he doesn’t want to overstate their importance as it relates to younger Americans. He reiterates that the benefit of a booster dose is greater in the elderly, and that it is progressively less in the lower risk groups.
Jason Maley, MD (Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC) discussed BIDMC’s COVID-19 Survivorship Program for patients experiencing long-haul COVID-19 symptoms.
A January study led by BIDMC researchers found that N95s could be used as many as 25 times before they were no longer functional. However, this number likely skews high for the average consumer. Researchers were able to decontaminate the masks with vaporized hydrogen peroxide between uses—something people can’t do at home.
As other countries have started to offer second booster vaccines, health experts say it’s premature for the US to take similar steps, at least for the foreseeable future. Dan Barouch MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) shares his opinion in regards to a second COVID-19 booster, stating that boosting every three to six months is not a feasible strategy in the developing world. Although he acknowledges that boosters have their place, he emphasizes vaccinating the unvaccinated is crucial to warding off severe illness and preventing other variants from emerging.
According to a study led by BIDMC researchers, published in Nature, current COVID-19 vaccines provide robust protection against severe infection caused by the Delta and Omicron variants. The study shows that existing COVID-19 vaccines induce cellular immunity, or the production of protective immune cells, even against Omicron. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) states that the data provides immunological context— current vaccines still provide robust protection against severe disease and hospitalization due to the Omicron variant despite substantially reduced neutralizing antibody responses and increased breakthrough infection.
Richard Schwartzstein, MD (Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC) discussed the strain on the hospital system’s impact on the spread of Omicron infections noting how with positive cases and quarantines thinning already overstretched staff, health care systems are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
A new study led by Julia Haas, PhD and Ted Kaptchuk (Program in Placebo Studies, BIDMC) and published in JAMA Network Open shows more than two-thirds of the common side-effects people experience after a COVID-19 vaccine can be attributed to a negative version of the placebo effect rather than the vaccine itself. In view of their results, the researchers argue that better public information about nocebo responses may improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake by reducing the concerns that make some people hesitant.
In this first person piece, Leonor Fernandez, MD (Medicine, BIDMC) shares that by informing and protecting ourselves, we can help protect our loved ones, and also support our health care workers who are working hard to give the best care possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.