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Surprised by need for COVID-19 boosters? Don't be. OU Health expert uses five-shot tetanus series to explain why
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Surprised by need for COVID-19 boosters? Don't be. OU Health expert uses five-shot tetanus series to explain why

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Dr. Dale Bratzler uses the five-shot series of the tetanus vaccine as an example for why people shouldn’t be surprised that science supports a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for adults six months after initial doses.

Bratzler, University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID officer, recently addressed misinformation about COVID boosters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 19 approved COVID-19 booster shots for all eligible Americans who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

He said it’s important for individuals to understand that many vaccines require a priming series that later must be boosted, which dramatically increases antibody levels and T-cell response for long-term immunity.

Put simply, that’s how the immune system works, Bratzler said.

In his presentations, Bratzler asks: Did your parents ever tell you just because you received the childhood tetanus vaccine that you’ll never have to get a tetanus shot again?

He explained that children get five total doses of the tetanus vaccine. The first three shots are at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months old. The next one is between 15 and 18 months, with the fifth dose taken before entering school.

“That’s the priming series,” Bratzler said. “And then any of you who end up with a laceration, step on a nail — any serious injury — go to an emergency room and get out of the emergency room with a tetanus shot. It’s just ingrained in us to do that.

“We take tetanus shots all the time. If you look at CDC recommendations, we do it every 10 years at a minimum.”

Bratzler pointed to the chasm of deaths between tetanus and COVID-19. There were six deaths from tetanus in the past year in the U.S., he said, with 330,000 deaths from COVID in the same span.

“We’ve just lost perspective on the importance of vaccination as a tool to reduce the risk of death from infectious diseases,” Bratzler said. “It’s just very, very important.”

Bratzler said multiple studies clearly show that receiving two doses of an RNA vaccine causes good antibody responses, but it tapers off over time. He said it’s unclear whether further boosters will be needed later.

Dr. Stan Schwartz, chief executive officer at WellOK, the Northeastern Oklahoma Business Coalition on Health, also noted the importance of boosters and vaccination in general.

He said observational studies show that natural immunity after a mild or asymptomatic infection “isn’t highly effective and and is not very durable over time.”

If you are not vaccinated, he said, don’t rely on natural immunity for protection against re-infection. Take extra care at gatherings, especially around vulnerable people, he said.

“It’s just not safe to rely on natural immunity in that case,” Schwartz said.

The CDC underscored the importance of the booster program to increase protection as the holiday season arrives. It strongly encourages older people and individuals with underlying medical conditions to get their booster shots. Vaccine appointments can be found at vaccines.gov.

“Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose.”

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Staff Writer

I am a general assignment reporter who predominately writes about public health, public safety and justice reform. I'm in journalism to help make this community, state, country and, ultimately, world a better place.

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