Coronavirus

There might be a new way to free up more COVID-19 vaccines

New research shows how New York might be able to save a mountain of vaccine doses for others.

A woman gets vaccinated at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

A woman gets vaccinated at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Shortages continue to hinder the state’s coronavirus vaccine distribution process despite efforts by the federal government to increase shipments to the Empire State. “We know they’re not making it in the basement of the White House,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. Yet, the state might not need as many vaccines as previously thought.

An increasing body of research suggests that people who have previously been infected with the coronavirus might only need one of the two shots that people need to achieve near-complete protection against COVID-19. This could free up nearly 1.5 million vaccine doses if the federal government approves changes to the current distribution rules.

“Time to discuss policy changes,” Florian Krammer, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tweeted Monday following the release of new research conducted in Seattle. The study appears to confirm previous research in New York and Maryland. The three studies have yet to undergo the peer review process.

The latest research examined how a single dose of the new vaccines increased antibody levels among convalescent plasma donors who previously had COVID-19. “Our results strongly suggest that boosting pre-existing immunity through vaccination with (the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines) will lead to an increase of neutralizing antibody responses not only against the vaccine-matched strain but also against emerging mutant variants,” reads the research. If subsequent research confirms the finding, it could mean that nearly 1.5 million vaccine doses would not be needed to inoculate New Yorkers who previously tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resisted recent calls to change its guidelines that currently recommend two shots. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet Feb. 24-25 in Atlanta. An agenda for the meeting has yet to be released, and the CDC did not respond to a request for comment on how it might handle future changes to vaccine guidelines. It had previously shown a willingness to alter vaccine plans in “exceptional circumstances” where it may become necessary to mix vaccines from different manufacturers.

But before the new research can go before the CDC, more research is needed to prove that giving a single dose would actually protect previously infected people against COVID-19, according to Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It is premature to call for policy change,” she said in an email. “These are encouraging, albeit preliminary, data.”

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