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White House COVID-19 response adviser talks COVID boosters with StateImpact Oklahoma

Dr. Cameron Webb is the senior policy adviser on COVID-19 equity on the White House’s response team.
Virginia Equity Center
Dr. Cameron Webb is the senior policy adviser on COVID-19 equity on the White House’s response team.

Last week, StateImpact’s Catherine Sweeney talked with Dr. Cameron Webb. He’s the senior policy adviser on COVID-19 equity on the White House’s response team. It was the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the Pfizer vaccine booster its stamp of approval, just as the Oklahoma State Department of Health issued its release announcing booster availability statewide.

Below is an abridged transcript of the interview.

SWEENEY: We got the announcement today, so I was just hoping to talk with you a little bit about kind of the basic science behind that for our listeners, why somebody would want a booster, how that helps them. I know some people are trying to get boosters before.

WEBB: Sure

SWEENEY: So what do these announcements really mean?

WEBB: You know, I think the thing for folks to keep in mind is that everything with regard to this pandemic and recommendations around vaccines goes through a really extensive scientific process. And so there are a lot of folks involved. There’s a lot of review. And so, the FDA has a committee who makes recommendations. And so they … made their recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Another committee, a committee for the Centers for Disease Control … kind of took all of the evidence, all of the data and the recommendations from the FDA. And then from that, they made their recommendations to the CDC director, Dr. (Rochelle) Walensky, about kind of who should have booster’s and why they should have boosters. So it was a really extensive discussion.

SWEENEY: OK, can we talk a little bit about just about how boosters work and what kind of benefit that brings somebody who is, of course, already fully vaccinated?

WEBB: Ya know, six after about six months after that second shot, you started to see more vaccinated individuals who would have symptomatic COVID illness, or who would require hospitalization. And particularly older individuals who had been previously vaccinated. And so the question was, are we seeing some of that protection wane? … And where we landed was there’s still good protection, pretty good protection, but it is a little bit less than it was shortly after that second shot. And so the thought behind boosters is that it’s going to give your body another chance to to get stimulated, have that antibody response. People who got vaccinated more than six months ago are older Americans. It’s folks with chronic medical conditions. Those are the folks who got vaccinated first. And so those would be the folks who need some protection. It’s kind of good timing because it protects them in the midst of the surge.

SWEENEY: That makes sense, so it sounds like after six months is the way to go. If it hasn’t been six months, it should. Should you wait?

WEBB: Yeah, so the recommendations are only for folks who got vaccinated more than six months ago. So if you got vaccinated, let’s say, in April or May, this doesn’t apply to you yet, right? It’s really for folks who got vaccinated more than six months ago and specifically who received the Pfizer vaccine more than six months ago. You know, the FDA and CDC are going to review the data for Moderna, and that’s sixty eight million people who’ve gotten Moderna. They’re going to review it for Johnson and Johnson. That’s about 15 million people who got Johnson and Johnson. So they’re reviewing all those data and making sure we’ll have recommendations for every so no matter what vaccine you got.

SWEENEY: It seems like you’ve answered all of my obvious questions, is there anything I should have thought to ask you or anything you want to add?

WEBB: What the main thing I want to add is that this idea of boosters — and Dr. Walensky said it well — we can’t boost our way out of this pandemic. … We still have about 70 million folks who are unvaccinated. Our energy is still going toward getting those 70 million people vaccinated, first and foremost. And so, of course, we’re we’re making sure boosters are available, making sure people know where to get them and how to get them and who should get them. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re putting all of our energy, all of our emphasis on protecting folks who have no protection so far.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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