(NEW YORK) – Millions more vaccinated adults in the US are entitled to a COVID-19 booster as of Friday. Yet the vast majority of Americans vaccinated were already eligible – many just didn’t know it.
According to an October survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 in 10 adults vaccinated were unsure whether they qualified for a booster. To date, only 32 million Americans have received a booster vaccination, or about 18% of the more than 182 million adults fully vaccinated.
Announcing the latest recommendations, public health experts from the Food and Drug Administration and CDC expressed the hope that they would help clear the confusion and make it easier for Americans who wonder: Do I need a booster vaccination?
That’s what the experts say.
Should you get a booster?
The question has been hotly debated for months, but a larger pro-booster consensus has formed over the past week.
Why? A number of reasons, including rising cases in more than half of the US states near a busy vacation travel season and lower temperatures pushing people indoors.
The FDA and CDC issued the updated recommendation on Friday. It expanded booster access to all adults who were vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer more than six months ago, and while the recommendation was stronger for anyone over 50 to get a booster, it applies to anyone 18 to 49.
For Johnson & Johnson recipients, the recommendation was already valid two months after their admission for everyone over the age of 18.
It has been a long time coming for experts who have long been vocal proponents of booster shots.
“Enough is enough. Let’s move on,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Senior Medical Advisor to the White House and director of the National Institutes of Health, at an event Wednesday before the FDA and CDC made the final call.
“There is no doubt that immunity is weakening. It subsides with everyone. It’s more dangerous in the elderly, but it affects all age groups, “said Fauci, citing data from Israel and the UK, where more people were vaccinated earlier and documented immunity declining for the first time.
Others, like Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, called the decline “both predictable and predictable.”
“And the way you fix it is that you give this third vaccination,” he said.
Both Hotez and Fauci believe the vaccines should be used not only to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, but infection as well – especially because of the risk of long-term COVID, a worrying side effect of the disease that is rare in vaccinated people but can take a long time. Concept of fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath.
“When I got my third vaccination, why was I so eager for it? Well, of course I didn’t want to go to the hospital or intensive care unit, but I didn’t want to get COVID either, ”said Hotez.
“I didn’t want to get gray matter degeneration or cognitive decline and have a brain scan that looks like someone 20 years older.”
But for those who are still unsure about their personal decision, Dr. Anna Durbin, Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, outlined risk scenarios to consider.
“It really comes down to your level of comfort and what makes you feel safer as a person,” said Durbin.
If you travel overseas or live in areas with high transmission, if you are elderly or have underlying illnesses, or work in the community frequently, these are all reasons to get a booster vaccination, Durbin said.
For young, healthy people who don’t feel at risk, Durbin said they should keep an eye on rising cases in your area. Consider buying a booster to dampen transmission, but also to protect yourself from a surge, Durbin said.
“If we see a new wave, it will most likely happen in the winter months. And if you get boosted now, that gives you really good protection for that time, ”said Durbin.
Don’t panic if you can’t book an appointment straight away – especially since the demand increases with the new recommendation, say experts.
“I wouldn’t see it as an emergency that people line up on approval day and have to get their boosters that weekend,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
It is still much more important for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, Barouch said, especially before the holidays.
“The most important thing is that everyone who celebrates gets vaccinated if they are eligible for vaccination. Now additional boosts can come in handy. But the most important thing is that people are vaccinated in the first place, ”he said.
Why was it so confusing?
To put it simply, “The reason for the confusion is that it was confusing,” said Barouch.
“The guidelines are changing,” said Barouch. “And in some cases, the guidelines change for good reasons: They change because we see a changing pandemic.”
A patchwork of booster guides surfaced last week when governors in over a dozen states urged all adults to get a booster refresher before federal agencies step in to tackle peak load cases and overwhelmed hospitals.
Hotez praised states for making the “medically correct” decision and for being “nimble” than the original CDC and FDA decision, but acknowledged the divide they created in the public health guidelines.
“Not as elegant as you’d like – to have the states about a week up front, but you know, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as you’d like,” said Hotez.
Some, like Hotez, have always believed that boosters are necessary even before data on declining immunity seeps in, thinking that if the public had always been told to expect a booster, confusion would have been avoided.
“The American people should have been told from the start that they shouldn’t be surprised if the call for a third vaccination comes out, by the way,” he said.
Still, asking for a booster vaccination for those who were vaccinated six months ago while encouraging the most powerful group, the unvaccinated, to get their basic vaccinations is a fine line. The vaccines protect against hospitalization and death for many months to come.
“We can give any booster doses we want and until we vaccinate people or we are all infected, we will continue to see transmission of COVID,” Durbin said.
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