Photo Credit: UChicago Medicine
As of early January 2022, about 79% of the U.S. population age 5 and older has had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But the numbers for additional doses, including boosters, are much lower: Not quite 67% of that same age group has received two doses. For people age 18 and older, only about 40% have received a booster dose, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Illinois, COVID-19 vaccination numbers are similar to nationwide statistics, and cases and hospitalizations are surging, with data showing COVID-19 community transmission at “high” levels across the state.
UChicago Medicine, with headquarters on the city’s South Side, has launched a campaign to encourage vaccination, featuring a video on COVID-19 Vaccine “Myths vs. Facts” and blogs by clinical leaders on the importance of getting a booster.
Myths that the health system is dispelling include:
Myth: I had COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine.
Fact: With natural infection, there is a level of uncertainty on how the antibodies will respond, and immunity is really specific to that particular variant. On the other hand, we do know the vaccine is very protective for most variants. In most people, getting vaccinated generates a lot of antibodies.
Myth: There’s still a chance of getting COVID-19 after the vaccine, so there’s no point in getting vaccinated.
Fact: No vaccination is 100% effective. However, your chances of getting COVID-19 are much lower after vaccination, and you are much less likely to be seriously ill or have complications after vaccination. This is because your immune system is primed and ready to fight off the virus before it can cause a lot of damage.
Clinical leaders at UChicago Medicine are talking facts and science to emphasize the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster. In a recent blog, Emily Landon, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and executive medical director for infection prevention and control, discussed booster shots and explained why people are getting breakthrough infections if the vaccines are effective.
“COVID-19 vaccines create high levels of antibodies that can block the virus from ever infecting our cells,” Landon explains. “As time passes after your vaccination, however, you also develop memory B cells and T cell immunity and antibody levels go down. With fewer blocking antibodies, the virus might be able to start an infection.”
As viruses evolve, “strains that can bypass those antibodies have an advantage”; when some people have a high-level of exposure, it can “overwhelm the antibodies” that people do have,” Landon said. That’s considered a “breakthrough infection.” But, as she noted, “memory B and T cells are able to respond quickly and stop the infection before too much damage is done.”
Vaccination can mean the difference between a person having mild symptoms and having serious illness or damage to organs. Landon explained: “When otherwise healthy vaccinated individuals develop breakthrough infection, it is usually mild. Unvaccinated people don’t have existing antibodies or memory B cells or T cells waiting to fight off COVID-19, which means they have to start their immune response from scratch.”
That could cause “more damage to their organs and tissues before COVID-19 is killed off” and lead to other serious complications. In addition, unvaccinated individuals are “much more likely to need intensive care support or have lingering symptoms known as long-COVID,” Landon said.
Landon also wrote a blog in late December about COVID-19 testing, answering questions about when to test, how accurate home tests are and more.