Virologist: Getting people vaccinated arguably ‘more important’ than booster shots

Oct 1, 2021, 8:00 AM
booster shots...
A sign for a King County Public Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic located at the Tukwila Village Farmers Market on Sept. 22, 2021, in Tukwila. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

While booster shots have been approved for some Americans, it’s not the most straightforward recommendation. To help clarify, Dr. Angela Rasmussen spoke to KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

Dr. Rasmussen studies emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and is an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, working at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, which is a research institute that focuses on developing vaccines for pandemic viruses. 

To start, Rasmussen says it’s perfectly fine to get your flu shot at the same time as you get your COVID-19 vaccine, if you’re not yet vaccinated.

“Of course, if you’ve already been vaccinated then you don’t need to worry about that,” she noted. “But you should still get your flu shot. But if you haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19, it actually is a great opportunity to go into the pharmacy and to get things taken care of at the same time.”

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As far as booster shots, whether or not you’re a candidate depends on what type of vaccine you received.

“This is really confusing for a lot of people,” Dr. Rasmussen admitted. “The recommendation right now for boosters only apply to people who received the Pfizer vaccine initially.”

“If they didn’t have a Pfizer vaccine the first time around, they may not be able to get the booster yet because currently the recommendations only apply to people who initially got the Pfizer vaccine,” Rasmussen added. “That’s really unfortunate because it’s the result of basically only having data from the Pfizer vaccine for the FDA and the CDCs Advisory Committee on immunization practices to evaluate.”

Even with the recommendation of booster shots, Rasmussen emphasized that all the COVID vaccines in use in the United States right now are still providing very good protection against severe disease.

Moving forward, Rasmussen says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about how things are looking in the United States in regards to COVID-19 cases.

“It seems that cases are going down nationally now. That’s not going to be true in every single region, but they are,” she said. “And as you pointed out, vaccinations are going up, but at the same time there’s still not enough people who are vaccinated.”

The national vaccine rates are great, she noted, but there are some communities where the majority of eligible people are still not vaccinated.

“That is potentially really dangerous going into the fall and winter, especially since there are fewer restrictions. People are going to be inside more. The holidays are coming up, they’re going to be getting together with their families,” Rasmussen said. “I think where we’re at right now is we have an opportunity, a short window, to really emphasize getting unvaccinated people vaccinated, and I would argue that that’s more important, actually, than making sure that people who are already vaccinated get booster shots.”

“I think it’s really important that the vaccines be authorized as soon as possible for children under the age of 12 because they are a significant unvaccinated population, and we just need to do more get people who are not vaccinated, vaccinated,” she added.

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Dr. Rasmussen also pointed out that not everyone who is unvaccinated is unvaccinated by choice. She says there are still major issues with vaccine access.

“Globally, that’s that’s even more pronounced,” she said. “There are some countries where a very small proportion of the population has been vaccinated, countries that won’t have access to adequate vaccine supplies until 2022 or even later. So we are at a good place in terms of in the U.S., in terms of in Washington state, but globally we still have a lot of work to do.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Virologist: Getting people vaccinated arguably ‘more important’ than booster shots