Doctors urge Utahns 65+ to get booster, warn immunity is waning

Oct 5, 2021, 7:06 PM | Updated: 8:52 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors at University of Utah Health urged those 65 or older to get the booster shot Tuesday, warning that protection against COVID-19 from the first two doses decreases overtime.

The push comes more than a week after the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those at higher risk receive a booster shot.

But during a question-and-answer session, two doctors at U of U Health said it’s not something people should just consider. They described it as a “should recommendation” that is “highly encouraged.”

That direction is for those who are 65 or older and have received their second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.

“That individual should consider themselves to be no longer protected against COVID, particularly with this much more contagious Delta variant. So, you’re basically back to square one,” said Dr. Mark Supiano, geriatrics division chief at U of U Health.

Supiano noted we haven’t heard much about how COVID is impacting the 65+ age group in recent months and he attributes that to the high rate of infections in that age group.

More than 85% of those 65 or older in Utah have been fully vaccinated.

In fact, a new report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services shows vaccinations may have helped prevent roughly 1,500 new COVID infections, 600 hospitalizations and 200 deaths among seniors in Utah from Jan. to May 2021.

“If you want to confer the same protection that we’ve all recognized over the last six months to continue for the next six months, it’s really critical to get that booster dose now,” said Supiano.

“Six months is an appropriate time when immunity has waned enough — especially in the elderly — that this is going to be beneficial and save lives,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, infectious diseases division chief at U of U Health.

Swaminathan said the data comes primarily from studies in Israel that showed the protection levels drop overtime in those older individuals who had been vaccinated.

“We can’t afford to wait because it’s pretty clear that the third dose will provide additional protection for the elderly,” said Swaminathan.

As of Tuesday, the only FDA authorized booster shot is the Pfizer vaccine.

An FDA panel will consider providing emergency authorization to the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson booster shots next week.

Supiano predicts the booster shots are here to stay.

“We will likely be seeing the need for booster vaccinations for COVID going forward, so I would expect this to become the norm,” he said.

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Doctors urge Utahns 65+ to get booster, warn immunity is waning