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Understanding the COVID Vaccination and Booster Shot

October 11, 2021

CANTON, NY – It has been 20 months since North Country residents have been keeping a watchful eye on COVID-19, and a St. Lawrence Health Infectious Diseases physician stated he cannot stress enough how important it is to be vaccinated, and to understand what that actually means.

Canton-Potsdam Hospital Infectious Diseases Specialist Daniel Soule, DO, said the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing the severe effects of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. The waning antibody numbers that have recently been discussed in the media do not correlate with a loss of this protection.

“The primary benefit of the vaccinations against SARS-COV2 is the prevention of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Prevention of infection is an added benefit but was not the primary goal of the vaccination,” Dr. Soule explained. “What was noted is that antibody levels had waned but the protection has persisted.”

Even though there have been breakthrough cases of some vaccinated individuals getting COVID-19, the vaccine is doing its job.

A community-based, nested, control study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal showed only 0.2 percent of those who were fully vaccinated later tested positive for COVID-19. While accounting for differences in age, sex, and other risk factors, the researchers found that fully vaccinated individuals who developed breakthrough infections were about half (49 percent) as likely as unvaccinated people to report symptoms of Long COVID Syndrome, lasting at least four weeks after infection.

“These findings also offer the encouraging news that help is already here in the form of vaccines, which provide a very effective way to protect against COVID-19, and greatly reduce the odds of Long COVID if you do get sick,” Dr. Soule pointed out.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently separating those who should get a booster and those that can. Individuals in certain categories who have received their first round of vaccinations at least six months ago, are encouraged to get a booster shot. These groups consists of those 65 years of age and older, and those 18 and older who live in long-term care settings, have underlying medical conditions, or work/live in high risk settings.

As the discussion about booster shots and pharmaceutical requests for approval continue, some people at a lower risk may wonder if they should get the additional shot if it becomes available to the general public.

“It may ultimately come down to a question of population health versus personal health,” Dr. Soule stated. “Boosters for low risk patients may not directly benefit the patients themselves, but if it is demonstrated that a booster leads to decreased infections or shorter recovery times, it may be beneficial in extending the umbrella over those who do not get vaccinated or are immunocompromised.”

As boosters become widely available to the general public, individuals who encountered any side effects with the first two vaccination injections may experience similar side effects with the third dose. Some patients who have already received the booster are reporting slight pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headache. In most cases these symptoms resolve within 24 hours.

St. Lawrence County residents should have a level of concern about the high number of unvaccinated they encounter within our communities.

“We should be concerned because breakthrough infections are likely dependent upon your own social circles; if you are around a large group of unvaccinated people your risk would be increased for exposure rather than if you were around a large group of vaccinated people. This is also why the other things we can do to mitigate risks of COVID are important, like staying home when sick, getting tested, social distancing, and masking, especially if not vaccinated. Hopefully, people who feel they don’t need the vaccine because they are low risk, will still see the benefits of getting vaccinated to help those they know and love who are higher risk for severe COVID if they were to get infected,” Dr. Soule said.

 “These vaccines have truly been a remarkable thing. They are very effective at preventing the worst of COVID, and so we should be concerned for our neighbors, friends, and family members who are unvaccinated by choice or are unable to get it,” Dr. Soule continued.

Vaccinated individuals need to continue to make smart and responsible decisions to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the community. The CDC is currently recommending that all individuals wear masks at indoor public areas, or tightly gathered outdoor settings, and to practice good hand hygiene.

Medical and public health professionals often wince when they hear people say they did their own research, as some information may be difficult to interpret, or is twisted to fit their own beliefs. Yet it is encouraging to the professionals to hear people want to learn more and understand the pandemic on a deeper level.

“Where this gets tricky is having the public learn how to interpret medical literature and data, as well as maintain a healthy dose of skepticism, understanding our own biases and those who we go to for information,” Dr. Soule said. “While I applaud patients wanting to take an active role in educating themselves, I do want to ask them to exercise some caution, as not all sources are equal. I recommend going to the CDC, NY State Department of Health, and local county health departments.

“The virus is not political; the vaccines are an amazing accomplishment and our best tool at preventing the worse of COVID.  The people who work in healthcare and care for you when you have COVID-19 need all the help we can get. Please get vaccinated. We do not want to see you checking into our airborne precaution unit; this pain and suffering can be prevented safely and effectively,” Dr. Soule concluded.

Learn more about COVID-19, vaccinations, and testing.