Georgia doctor says he recommends COVID-19 shots for all, but not boosters

Dr. Cecil Bennett of Newnan Family Medicine has spent months pushing his patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But, he's not convinced those same patients will need to come back for booster shots anytime soon.

"Every day, my patients are asking me about boosters, especially my seniors," Dr. Bennett says. 

Dr. Cecil Bennett, a family practice physician in Newnan, says he's been telling his patients they don't need a third shot, unless they have a compromised immune system.

The CDC's recommendation on COVID boosters

The CDC has recommended third doses for about 3 million Americans who did not mount a full immune response to the primary vaccines, such as some cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, people with uncontrolled HIV, and those who are on high-dose steroids or medications that suppress their immune system.

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The question of whether all Americans need COVID-19 boosters is still being  debated by both scientists and health care providers. There is growing data the protection provided by the vaccines wanes over time. Still, studies show the shots remain highly effective at preventing severe infection and death.

Despite an increase in breakthrough infections, health experts say, most fully vaccinated individuals who get infected experience either no symptoms or milder illness.

Dr. Bennett says, he routinely checks his vaccinated patients' antibody levels.

"So, I know if they're immune or not, based on what their antibody titers are," Dr. Bennett says. "Any titer greater than 0.8 means that my patient is immune.  My average patient after the two-dose vaccine, 4, 6, 8 months later, is having antibody levels that are measuring between 300 to 400."

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When boosters may be available

The Biden Administration hopes to roll out boosters for all Americans beginning as soon as next week, if the FDA and the CDC clear the way for third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

US health officials have said Americans should plan on getting a booster about 8 months out from their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Bennett says that timeline feels arbitrary.

He has patients with antibody titers greater than 2,500.

"So, why am I boosting those people at eight months, arbitrarily?  That makes no sense to me," Bennett says. "So, I need full clarification, and it's unlikely that I am going to offer boosters to any of my patients who are well above the titer cutoff, because the sooner you give a booster, the sooner you're going to have to give another booster."

Caution around COVID vaccines and boosters

While the three COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, Bennett cautions, they can cause side effects.

"I have patients that are still, that have side effects for weeks after their second dose, and they were willing to live with that for what they were getting, in terms of protection," he says.  "Now I'm going to give them a third dose, which they may not need, to harm them again for another two or three weeks unnecessarily? I'm not going to do with that."

If the FDA authorizes a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday, a CDC advisory panel will meet next week to decide who should get boosters.

There is a chance the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices could recommend boosters only for certain higher risk Americans, such as seniors ages 60 or 65 and older.

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