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How do booster shots work?

With the Food and Drug Administration approving a third COVID-19 shot for those with weakened...
With the Food and Drug Administration approving a third COVID-19 shot for those with weakened immune systems some are wondering exactly how booster shots work. Doctors say if you think of your immune system as the military, you can think of booster shots as adding more manpower to fight an infection.(WBRC)
Published: Aug. 15, 2021 at 9:53 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - With the Food and Drug Administration approving a third COVID-19 shot for those with weakened immune systems, some are wondering exactly how booster shots work.

Doctors say if you think of your immune system as the military, you can think of booster shots as adding more manpower to fight an infection.

“We use extra shots of vaccine when it looks like there’s a need to maintain or give a boost to the immunity that the original shot gave us,” said Professor of Medicine in Infectious Disease at UAB, Dr. Michael Saag.

Doctors say COVID-19 vaccines produce an initial surge of antibodies that slowly drops off.

“A vaccine works by stimulating the immune system, if you think about the immune system as the military, it’s basically giving it advanced intelligence under an enemy it may encounter,” Dr. Saag explained.

A small number of ‘memory’ B and T cells are left behind, which continue patrolling the body.

But booster shots give these cells an army to fight against future infections.

“It could be over time, that that knowledge or that memory of what that coronavirus looks like may start to wane or get low, so another shot, in this case let’s call it a booster, will stimulate the immune system to say, ‘Yep, this is what you need to remember, and if you encounter this, you’ll be ready to go to battle,’” Dr. Saag said.

Dr. Saag says COVID boosters are like “basic training” for the immune system keeping it ready and able to pounce on the coronavirus.

He says those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 are vulnerable to attacks from the virus.

“There’s no advance notice to their immune system, no game plan on how to fight the virus. So, the immunity given by a vaccine, preps the immune system to say, ‘Okay, when you see this, this is what you do.’ And without those instructions, a person is very vulnerable not only to becoming infected, but once infected, to getting very sick and potentially dying from COVID,” Dr. Saag explained.

Dr. Saag says this third shot shores up immunity for those who might not have had a robust response to the first two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

He adds that people should not confuse the notion that we might all need a booster shot in the future with not getting the vaccine at all.

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