Dr. Colin McMahon


Almost one year ago, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine was just beginning and people were lining up in mass to try to obtain one. In our community, Eastern Niagara Hospital provided more than 3,500 vaccines for residents across Western New York.

Fortunately today, vaccines are now widely available for everyone 5 years of age and older. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are plentiful at most community pharmacies, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years. All of these vaccines have high percentages of effectiveness.

Since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated may still get COVID-19. An infection of a fully vaccinated person is referred to as a “vaccine breakthrough infection.” It’s important to note that fully vaccinated people with a vaccine breakthrough infection are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19. Even when fully vaccinated people do develop symptoms from the virus, they tend to be less severe symptoms than in unvaccinated people. This means they are much less likely to be hospitalized or die than people who are not vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at preventing infection, serious illness and, most importantly, death. The majority of people who are getting COVID-19 at this time, and having serious complications from the virus, are those who are unvaccinated. Getting vaccinated is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent infection by the Delta variant or any other variants.

As the pandemic evolves, many individuals are now considering whether to receive a booster shot. Typically, individuals choose to get a booster vaccine after their immunity from the initial dose(s) they have received naturally starts to wane. Boosters are designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for an extended period of time.

Those at greater risk for complications from COVID-19 are now eligible for boosters. The CDC recommends the following:

— People 65 years and older should receive a booster shot. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age.

— Residents aged 18 years and older of long-term care settings should get a booster shot. Because residents in long-term care settings live closely together in group settings and are often older adults with underlying medical conditions, they are at increased risk of infection and severe illness from COVID-19.

— People aged 50 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions should get a booster shot. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19  can increase for adults of any age with underlying medical conditions.

— People aged 18 to 49 years with underlying medical conditions may get a booster shot based on their individual risks and benefits. This recommendation may change in the future as more data become available.

— People aged 18 to 64 years at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may get a booster shot based on their individual risks and benefits. Adults who work or reside in certain settings (e.g., health care, schools, correctional facilities, homeless shelters) may be at increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19, which could be spreading where they work or reside. That risk can vary across settings and is based on how much COVID-19 is spreading in a community.

Eastern Niagara Hospital is not currently providing booster vaccines for the public, since these are now readily available at pharmacies throughout the region. It’s advisable to first check with the pharmacy where you typically obtain your own prescriptions.

In conclusion, it’s critical for all individuals, no matter what the circumstances, to get information regarding COVID-19, vaccines and boosters from reliable sources, particularly your personal physician. Information obtained from social media and unreliable sources online, as well as acquaintances who are not health care professionals, is risky not only for you but others in your life. Play it safe and follow the recommendations of science and trusted medical providers.

Colin McMahon, MD, CPE, serves as the chief hospitalist for Eastern Niagara Hospital. He and his associates from DMP Medicine care for all inpatients at ENH. Eastern Niagara Healthlines is a special feature by the Eastern Niagara Health System’s community relations department. For additional information, call 716-514-5502.

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