A Pfizer COVID booster shot is about to get a trial run as UMass Medical School seeks 100 participants

A Pfizer COVID booster shot is about to get a trial run as UMass Medical School seeks 100 participants

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UMass Medical School plans to begin enrolling participants from its initial Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial into a new study to test the efficacy of the vaccine manufacturer’s proposed booster shot, the college announced this week.

UMass is looking to enroll about 100 people from the prior trial by the end of June, according to Dr. Robert Finberg, an infectious disease expert with UMass Medical School. Those people will have gotten their second dose of vaccine about six months ago.

Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla has said that fully vaccinated people will likely need a booster shot for continued protection against COVID within 12 months of becoming fully vaccinated, and there is evidence supporting the need for a third dose in immunocompromised patients. Moderna and AstraZeneca are also working on boosters to help address concerns of fading immunity, emerging variants and so-called “breakthrough” infections, or cases of COVID in people who are fully vaccinated.

Finberg said researchers will look for new infections in two participant groups: one for people aged 16 to 55, and the other for adults over age 55. He said so far the vaccines have proven to be effective against all existing and emerging COVID variants, and is optimistic about the protection a third dose may offer.

The timing of the booster comes as the so-called Delta COVID variant is fast ascending in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.K, cases of the ore infectious and potentially deadlier variant have doubled in a week, with hospitalizations following the spike, according to Bloomberg.

“So far as we know, these vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant,” Finberg said. “Most of these variants have been minor variants, and although they’ve been in the spike protein, they have not prevented the vaccines from working.”

In Massachusetts, officials have reported cases of breakthrough COVID (where a fully-vaccinated person tests positive for the virus), and even hospitals are reporting more serious cases in fully vaccinated patients. Health officials have confirmed more than 3,700 COVID-positive tests in fully vaccinated as of June 12 — a number likely to be higher now.

But such cases are still a small fraction of the overall fully vaccinated, which in Massachusetts now exceeds 4 million people.

The booster trial at UMass is expected to get underway over the next few weeks.

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Cindy Rose

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