We rule followers have had it relatively easy this pandemic. We’ve waited, breathlessly, for the next opportunity to do the right thing by staying inside, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. The next point of order, it may seem, would be to line up dutifully for our booster shots on the minute of the hour of the day when it’s been eight months since our last shot.
But we have some bad news. It’s no longer that simple. Last week, a group of scientists came together on a conference call to say the same shocking thing: They don’t plan to get a booster shot, not unless it’s mandated.
It was confusing and strange and, like many things in life, nuanced. Chart after chart showed that actually, for those of us who are vaccinated and have strong, healthy immune systems, our defenses against COVID-19, and even the more transmissible Delta variant, aren’t waning.
The best metaphor came from immunologist Dr. Marion Pepper of the University of Washington, who likened our antibodies to the force field wielded by “The Incredibles” character Violet. Pepper said that even when the virus gets by that force field, behind it is an entire team of superheroes trained to attack this particular threat. That’s our T cells and memory B cells, which studies have shown are all still responding just as well to COVID-19 even a year after first being trained in skilled combat by vaccines.
“It's an entire immune system,” she said. “It's not just an antibody.”
So why is there so much talk about boosters? Because, the doctors said, relatively cheap and easy antibody studies are showing a decline in our antibody force field over time. But that may be no problem, because now that our fighting cells are trained, it’ll take fewer of them and a lot less time to kill the virus when they sense a threat. Just imagine if Violet had to walk around every day with her force field up! Sounds exhausting.
That’s why Dr. Monica Gandhi of University of California, San Francisco, would rather see our billion surplus doses given only to people who are at the highest risk of getting breakthrough cases, like seniors and those with compromised immune systems, guided by data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is already gathering.
If we were in charge of this whole operation, we would listen to the scientists and send those much-needed shots elsewhere in the world. But it’s simply not up to newspaper editors nor any of us on the coast. And we know our unused doses aren’t likely to get shipped overseas. So later this month, the feds will make their decision. And we rule followers? We’ll get in line and get the jab, if that’s what we’re told.
— Sarah Wright