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Local researchers to study Pfizer booster, potential guard against variants

University of Rochester

Rochester researchers will study how a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine could play a role in protecting recipients from COVID-19 and its variants in the long term. The University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health announced Thursday morning that a new clinical trial will evaluate the safety and efficacy of a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine currently requires two doses.  

“While widespread vaccination is the key to moving past the current health crisis, COVID-19 has the potential to become a seasonal and mutating virus,” Dr. Ed Walsh, infectious disease specialist at URMC and RRH said in a press release. “This study will help us understand important questions about the safety and immunogenicity of multiple doses of an mRNA vaccine, information that could ultimately enable us to extend the protection of vaccines.” 

Walsh added that future research could eventually focus on variant-specific boosters.  

Rochester is one of four sites in the U.S. involved in the new study. It includes 144 volunteers who participated in phase 1 of the Pfizer trials last year; 35 of the new study volunteers are in Rochester.  

Researchers will measure the boost to the immune system from the third dose and analyze if it protects against not only current variants of the virus, but also emerging strains.

More data is needed to determine how long the current two-dose vaccine provides protection from the virus, but experts say that like vaccines for other infectious diseases, immunity is expected to wane over time.  

URMC and RRH researchers have been involved with the development of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine since May 2020. 

Megan Mack is the executive producer of "Connections with Evan Dawson" and live/televised engagement programming.