Boosting COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness

Reports of COVID-19 breakthrough cases make national headlines frequently. The most recent example is the death of Colin Powell from COVID-19 complications. 

These reports are coming at the same time the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing its recommendations for COVID-19 boosters. All this information adds to confusion about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and the need for booster shots.

“The intent of the booster shot is to rev up that immunity again and get it acting at its full potential,” said Michael Walters, MD, Aspirus Senior System Physician Executive of Specialty Care. “Think of it as a series like you would see with a lot of other vaccinations that you would have had as a child or even as an adult such as your tetanus shots.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the Aspirus Health system largely impact people who are not fully vaccinated, but breakthrough infections happen too. On October 19, 27% of COVID-positive patients in the Aspirus system had been fully vaccinated. 

“It reinforces that idea that over time, your immunity will wane as you get further away from your initial vaccination series and so it really stresses that need for a booster shot,” Dr. Walters said. 

This doesn’t mean that the COVID-19 vaccines are not working.

“It’s just really part of how our bodies work and how the vaccines work,” said Dr. Walters. “The intent of the vaccinations is not to prevent you from getting the disease, it’s to prevent serious infection, hospitalization and death.”

New data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) show significantly higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death among individuals who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. These rates in September 2021 were five times higher for infection, nine times higher for hospitalization and 19 times higher for death. 

Anyone can go online to for more information about the difference between a third COVID-19 shot and boosters, as well as guidance on who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot. 

Those eligible for COVID-19 vaccine or a booster shots can schedule through the MyAspirus app or Currently only Pfizer boosters are available. Scheduling options will be added for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson once they are authorized by the CDC and DHS.