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Front Page - Friday, April 22, 2022

Rogers column: Get the latest COVID booster? It’s hard to know what to do

Except for the anti-vax crowd – a self-thinning Darwinian herd – it’s time for some of us to consider another COVID shot. Turns out it’s more complicated than I had hoped.

Deciding on the first shots was a no-brainer. As soon as they were authorized for my age group, Geezer II, I made arrangements and twice stood in a substantial line at a Walmart to get jabbed. Other than some surprisingly potent soreness in the receiving arm after the first shot, there were no negative repercussions. And I felt bulletproof.

Ditto when the first booster was authorized, except there was no line that time. I’d somehow managed to be the only shot patron in a different Walmart, a bit of good fortune I reckoned as due, given my previous investments of time.

That was back in … I don’t know. The guy didn’t put a date on my vaccination card, just the type of vaccine (Pfizer) and the store number.

But let’s say, October. So, six months or so ago, during which I’ve eased up on some of my COVID precautions, but not entirely.

A mask still seems appropriate at the grocery store, especially with fewer of my fellow customers and store staff covered up. My church has just decided to make masks optional for the vaccinated, but as with the booster, I haven’t decided.

And I’ve always more or less assumed another booster would follow at some point. But when?

Two sets of couple friends – one jointly older than we are, the other younger – have already taken the step. Not surprising, since they’ve always leaned even more COVID-cautious than we are: In the early pandemic days wiping down packages from the grocery store with Lysol, spritzing mail with antiseptic spray, giving wide berth to any fellow sidewalkers encountered.

As one of the guys noted recently that with authoritative guidance hard to come by early on, extra vigilance seemed prudent. “‘Trust the science’ – that was hard at first – the scientific leadership was telling us things like ‘no need for a mask’ and ‘don’t touch your face!’ The science was obsessed with surfaces (countertops or whatever) and strangely ignoring the obvious airborne dangers of the thing.”

Depending on where you look, some of the signals are still questionable. Witness the Tennessee legislature’s recent move to allow people to get the antiparasitic drug ivermectin without a prescription, despite research showing it offers no benefits against COVID. And despite the drug’s maker, Merck, warning against its use for that purpose.

By the way, epidemiology is not the only topic on which I would counsel against trusting the legislature.

But who can we trust? After that sputtering start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing a reasonable job, but it can still be hard to parse just what its recommendations are. Its website now states everyone 12 and older “should” get one booster; anyone 50 and older “can” get another.

At what point in the calculus does “can” become “should?”

In search of something more definitive, I consulted Google for more information. That’s the kind of random research that has led some people to swear by vitamin D and zinc for protection, but hey, what else are we supposed to do? Eeny meeny miney mo?

Google led me to a New York Times essay that further clouded the issue. The piece, “Why Experts Can’t Seem to Agree on Boosters,” outlined the difficulties finding consensus. Among them is the fact that the virus is still shape-shifting. (Omicron subvariants BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1? Really?)

“I’m a 64-year-old healthy guy, and I’m six months out from my last booster,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I think it’s pretty ironclad that I should get this.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, recently agreed. “I think people over 60 should be getting it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

And yet….

“I’ve always been skeptical of the first booster, and I’m even less sure about the second booster,” said Dr. Phil Krause, a former deputy director of the Office of Vaccines Research and Review for the Food and Drug Administration.

There’s a lot more information in the piece detailing the conundrum. Look it up if you want. But I’ll give you the second booster conclusion, to save you the time:

“Sometimes there is no right answer. It’s a matter of opinion.”

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com