Dr. Joseph Gathe Jr.

To say Dr. Joseph Gathe Jr., a Houston-based, nationally revered physician and healthcare leader, is committed to spreading expert, credible information on the COVID-19 pandemic, is an understatement.

The Defender interviewed Gathe asking him about various aspects of the pandemic. His responses are being shared in a series of articles, with insights that push back against COVID misinformation with COVID facts.

This is the second article in the Gathe series focuses on the controversial COVID booster: do we need one or not?

CDC MESSAGING

The information being given out by the CDC, et cetera, has not been as clear as it needs to be. I can listen to it and see it’s not clear sometimes even to me. So, I understand the frustration of our community. The communication is not where it needs to be, which is why I try to decipher what they’re trying to say and bring it down to a level and say, “Okay, here’s what the real thing that has happened at this point in time.” And here’s what the real is. The real is that the antibody reaction that you get from the shots over time begins to go down. And we don’t know exactly how quick it goes down because the vaccine is new. But as I’m monitoring people, we can now draw antibody levels. And I can say maybe 20% of the people that come by the office and get checked, don’t have enough antibodies in their system to be able to fight off the Delta variant, which means two things. One, wear your mask because we don’t know where you fit with that for the time being. Two, it means that that 20% of people need to probably get a booster.

NO BOOSTER SIDE EFFECTS

What they’re trying to figure out is how to effectively get the booster out there without necessarily getting a blood test in everybody. Because trying to get a blood test and get a booster and everything else, is going to be hard. So, what they’re saying is many people after six-to-eight months, antibodies go down, so we want to potentially boost them before that happens. And there’s no side effects to getting a booster if you don’t need it. But there’s a side effect if you don’t get the booster and need it. So, they’re rolling that out right now.

WHO SHOULD DEFINITELY GET THE BOOSTER?

They’re saying people that are immunocompromised. I don’t even know what that means. I can make the argument that it’s picking us off more than anyone else. All Black people are immunocompromised because it looks like that’s what’s up in the hospital right now. So, I’m encouraging people right now based on the information, if it’s been over eight months, to get a booster shot, maybe no matter what. And if you’ve gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it does not appear to be as effective as the MRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). I think everyone that has Johnson & Johnson vaccine must get a booster shot because most of the people I see with Johnson & Johnson don’t have enough antibodies. So, the J&J people need a booster, for sure. If you’re eight months from your last shot, especially if you have risk factors for COVID, African American, Latino/a diabetes, hypertension, frontline work—I’m a policeman, I’m sacking groceries down at Kroger right now and I’m around a lot of people. I’ve got my mask on, but sometimes it slips, somebody’s coughing—those people, in my estimation need to get a booster. The risk of the booster is less than the risk of getting COVID at this point. So, until all of the official things come out, that’s sort of where we are. That’s where I am on this issue.