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The Making of Medicine

The Latest on the Benefits of the COVID-19 Boosters

Our Jeffrey Wilson, MD, PhD, has been tracking the performance of the COVID-19 boosters over time. His latest finding: A booster makes for longer-lasting antibodies, even for those who have had COVID-19.

Dr. Wilson and his team looked at antibody levels in 117 UVA employee volunteers after they received a booster, then compared those levels with the levels seen in 228 volunteers after their primary vaccination series. Antibody levels in the weeks after the primary series and booster were similar, but the boosted antibodies stuck around longer. And that was true whether the person had had COVID or not.

“These results fit with other recent reports and indicate that booster shots enhance the durability of vaccine-elicited antibodies," Dr. Wilson said.

The results were surprising in one regard, explains researcher Samuel Ailsworth: “Our initial thought was that boosters would lead to higher antibody levels than the primary vaccine series, but that was not what we found,” he said. “Instead, we found that the booster led to longer-lasting antibodies.”

Antibody levels naturally decline over time, but higher levels are generally thought to offer more protection. That means longer-lasting antibodies should provide more sustained protection from severe COVID-19, Dr. Wilson says. 

It's another good reason to get your booster if you haven't, especially if you are among the groups at greater risk for severe COVID-19.

“Although only about half of the U.S. population that is eligible for a booster has received one, it is increasingly clear that boosters enhance the protection that is conferred by the primary series mRNA vaccines alone,” Dr. Wilson said. 

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