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OU virologist explains how vaccines work and if booster shots will be needed

Posted at 9:23 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 22:25:22-04

TULSA, Okla. — As the Delta variant contributes to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state, health experts continue pushing for more people to get vaccinated, but some question the durability of a vaccine's immunity and want to know if a booster shots will be needed.

Immunology experts say they are still studying why some agents provide high levels of long-lasting immunity while others don't.

Dr. James Papin, a virologist with the OU College of Medicine, said the idea of a vaccine is to introduce the immune system to parts of an infectious agent without exposing it to it. He said vaccines help our immune system recognize the virus and build immunity to it.
For Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that information is known as mRNA, also known as messenger RNA. Papin said the messenger notifies our cell about the makeup of COVID-19 so that it can develop an immune response.

“And that is just the basic information that your cells already use to produce all the proteins that your body needs to survive, so they just took that information and put it in your cell in that manner,” he said.

Papin said the Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses a replication deficient viral vector that is able to put the information into the cell so that the cell can produce the proteins for the person to develop an immune response.

Although each vaccine uses a different method, Papin said all the three vaccines have proven effective.

“Complete eradication of SARS COVID-2, which is the virus, that causes COVID was not ever necessarily the goal, the goal was to stop hospitalization and death and the current vaccines, even without that third booster are extremely effective at that goal," Papin said.

Papin said some data shows antibodies start to wane after a while, which is why vaccine companies are in talks about a booster shot. He said right now it's too soon to tell if and when we might need one. However, he wants to make clear the need for a booster shot does not mean the two-dose regimen vaccines will not protect you from severe disease.

“As we get more data, and we get further out from a large number of individuals being vaccinated, they can do studies to follow the immune response and what the long-term immune response looks like and how protective it might be,” he said.

Although vaccine companies are still studying booster shots, Papin said it is possible they may be recommended for the vulnerable population.

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