After the Sandpiper eblast on September 11th announcing the FDA approval of new Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA COVID vaccines, we received a response from a vaccine skeptic that included the following sentence: “Nearly everyone that I know who is vaccinated AND double – triple boosted, has had COVID several times.”
Let me explain why: “being triple boosted and having COVID several times” is highly unlikely to protect you from the new COVID variants. Getting one of the new vaccines as soon as possible is the only way to significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or death.
Data from the from the first mRNA COVID vaccines showed a 68% reduction in the incidence of infection shortly after the second shot, declining to 36% within 6 months. Protection against hospitalization or death was over 90% shortly after vaccination, and protection declined to 50-60% after 6 months or more. Unfortunately, the decline in COVID immunity was faster in older vaccine recipients. Protection against hospitalization or death is a much more reliable statistic than protection against infection for the following reasons.
Protection against infection is a difficult metric since it is influenced by a variety of factors including lack of detection of asymptomatic infections, masking or lack thereof, avoidance or participation in high-risk exposure settings, unreported testing results, as well as the aforementioned time since the last booster. The COVID vaccines cannot provide robust protection in immunocompromised individuals, which unfortunately includes all of us over 65 years of age. So even if you “triple boosted”, if you are older and more than 6 months have passed since your last booster, and you have abandoned all precautions to prevent infection, it is not surprising that you might catch COVID. The new virus variants are clearly more transmissible that the original virus strains, so older data on vaccine efficacy may not be relevant in the current situation.
Multiple prior COVID infections are not as protective as one might hope. Prior infection with the original strains of the COVID virus was less protective than vaccination with the matching mRNA vaccines, but infection with the Omicron variants induced an even lower level of protection against hospitalization and this protective effect declined more rapidly. As new COVID variants emerge and the time since prior infections increases, the chances that any protective effects remain will diminish.
Getting the new COVID vaccine is the only way to effectively boost your immune response to the current, highly transmissible COVID virus variants. Vaccine skeptics, take note.