Westminster College students, staff and faculty met during an ASW Town Hall Oct. 26 to discuss questions regarding the future of Westminster in relation to COVID-19 pandemic. The Town Hall took place six days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster vaccines, according to a NPR news article.
The CDC expanded recommendations Nov. 19 for booster shots to include all adults ages 18 years and older who received a Pfizer-BionTech or Moderna vaccine at least six months after their second dose, according to their website.
These questions were answered by a panel consisting of:
- President Beth Dobkin
- Han Kim, professor of public health
- Director of Campus Safety Bri Buckley
- Associate Dean of Students Glenn Smith
- Nurse Practitioner Bill Self
Panelists discussed the idea of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
“It looks like we are going to have boosters, probably from this point on to […] top off immunity as [COVID-19] wanes,” Kim said.
The FDA also approved the use of a mixed vaccine combination — receiving a different booster shot than the original vaccine used to immunize someone from COVID-19 — according to the NPR article. For example, someone who received the Pfizer vaccine can get a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson booster shot.
“There may actually be some immunological benefits to mix-and-match as well, some of the data is really compelling,” Kim said.
Kim said the COVID-19 virus is more stable in comparison to the influenza virus meaning the COVID-19 virus cannot mutate as fast as the influenza virus can.
“What’s really brilliant about the mRNA technology is that it is really easy to change the formula to create a specific booster for different variants,” Kim said.
MRNA, or messenger RNA, is a type of RNA holding information on how to build certain types of proteins, according to MedlinePlus.
In the mRNA vaccine, a piece of mRNA has information taken from a piece of protein found on the virus and the body uses this information to help make antibodies to protect itself against the virus, according to MedlinePlus.
Booster shots may only be required to be taken annually, with the hope that more people will get a booster shot in comparison to the 45% of those who got their flu shot, according to Nurse Practitioner Bill Self.
As of Nov. 4, about 21.5 million additional booster doses in fully vaccinated people have been reported, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker.
The CDC said people who received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine and are 18 years and older should receive a booster shot at least two months after receiving their primary vaccine dose.
How booster shots will play into Westminster policy in the future is still up for discussion, according to Director of Campus Safety Bri Buckley.
“We still have to go through the process of ‘okay how [are booster shots] going to fit into our requirements and what are we asking the community to do?’” Buckley said.
Understanding what the CDC is recommending and how it will apply to Westminster’s policy will take a while, according to Buckley.
Looking at a New Normal
“I don’t want things to go back to normal — I want a new normal, where wearing a mask in public is normalized,” said Public Health Professor Han Kim. “That we take sick days where we take care of ourselves […] and we’re much more cognizant about infectious diseases and how destructive it can be.”
Nurse Practitioner Bill Self said recently, there has been a huge toxic culture around working, where one is often celebrated for coming into the office despite being sick.
“It needs to be accepted by the whole community that when we have anyone sick, whether it’s a teacher or a student, the right thing to do is stay home,” Self said.
If a student happens to be sick and needs to stay home, they can call Student Health Services, and SHS will make sure faculty is aware and students are not left behind in classes, according to Buckley.
Students, staff and faculty can submit any questions through the COVID-19 page on the Westminster website or call Student Health Services.