Victoria Dooley, M.D.

The evolving conversation about COVID-19 has turned from the majority of the discussion revolving around whether or not people should receive one of the three vaccines on offer. Now, the topic of debate for those who did elect to get “the jab” is whether or not to get it again, in the form of a vaccine booster meant to further fortify the immune system from COVID and its variants.

     “COVID developing variants wasn’t a shock to the healthcare community. Viruses mutate and change. The challenge as always comes from adapting our response and getting the correct information to the forefront,” says Dr. Victoria Dooley, Family Medicine physician with Ascension healthcare group.

     As of October 2021, there are multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have been identified spreading among global populations. The dominant, more prolific and
recognizable strains include the Alpha or UK variant, first found in London and Kent, the Beta Variant (formerly called the South Africa variant), the Gamma variant (formerly called the Brazil Variant), and the Delta Variant (formerly called the India Variant).

     The variants are categorized by mutations in the virus structure that alter how it reacts with people who encounter it. It might be more contagious, like the UK variant or spread more quickly, like the Delta.

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     “The problem with variants is that we already don’t know how COVID will affect each individual person, and variants, with their increased rate of spread and
resilient infection rate, add another level of uncertainty to how we respond and how we treat,” Dr. Dooley says.

     As the virus spreads and mutates in a race with the vaccine effort, booster shots offer a lifeline to the immune system. Over time, the mRNA in the shot that helps the system remember and recognize the virus starts to lose power and needs to be bolstered.

     “Getting a booster doesn’t make you ‘more immune’, of course, because there’s no such thing as full immunity. But it does dramatically decrease your chances of becoming infected and then spreading the variants to others, alongside tried and true methods like continuing to wear a mask,” Dr. Dooley says.

     Advancements in research with the boosters have even made it possible for doctors and patients to customize their vaccine plan, or at the very least make completing one more accessible for more people.

     “You can mix and match the boosters and the vaccine now, meaning that the first jab you get doesn’t have to match the brand of the booster you receive now. It doesn’t matter if you received the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson shot, you can receive the booster from any of the three and still be more protected,” Dr. Dooley says.

     Dr. Dooley suggests parents especially consider receiving a booster if their child participates in in-person learning.

     “Schools are open, but the pandemic is still ongoing. Any extra layer of protection a family can utilize is helpful. Younger children are still for the most part unapproved for most of the vaccines and so far all of the boosters,” She says.

     Colin Powell’s sudden passing due to complications from COVID, despite him being double vaccinated, may have shaken some people’s faith in the efficacy of both the vaccine and their boosters, which is understandable. But Dr. Dooley says the majority of people shouldn’t worry.

     “Colin Powell was an elderly gentleman with multiple health and immunity issues, the foremost of them being blood cancer (myeloma). His situation shouldn’t cause the majority of people who aren’t older and dealing with health problems to worry about whether the vaccine and boosters work or not,” she says.

     According to the Center for Disease Control, Michigan has an overall vaccination rate of 53.2%. It’s not bad – it’s higher than the average for most states – but lingering hesitancy over the vaccine in certain counties and communities keep us hovering at around the halfway mark. People who are unvaccinated are on average 11% more likely to be hospitalized and suffer complications, possibly fatal, from COVID and its variants.

     “In my opinion, I feel Michigan did the best with what it had when the crisis broke, and we’ve continued at a pretty fair and even pace. The lingering fear of the vaccine is sometimes frustrating, but understandable. The best option is always to talk to your doctor and figure out the best plan for yourself with them,” Dr. Dooley says.

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627)

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