Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, researchers have been working to better understand the virus and identify effective solutions. The approval of vaccines gave us a major step forward in protection against serious illness, and the subsequent approval of booster shots has further helped control the spread of the virus. But even if you’ve followed all recommendations, you could still get sick in the event of another surge. Experts, including top White House COVID advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, have recently commented on the waning immunity associated with COVID, and the potential for a spike in new cases this fall. With that in mind, some of us may need to start preparing now for what happens next.
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Late last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) updated recommendations to allow a second booster for certain immunocompromised people and those over the age of 50 who received an initial booster four months prior. Adults who received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and a booster are also eligible for a second booster of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Whether you run out and get another booster now is a personal choice. But many health experts think some individuals should not delay. If you’re over the age of 65 and have underlying conditions, or if you’re immunocompromised, you should probably make an appointment for a fourth booster now, Leana S. Wen, MD, MSc, emergency physician and research professor of Health Policy and Management at George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health, told CNN. The decision to get boosted depends on individual medical circumstances, Wen said, as well as “how much [you] are willing to give up to avoid COVID-19.”
While the CDC allows second boosters for those over the age of 50, if you’re shy of that 65-year mark, you may be able to hold off, Wen added. “Someone who is between ages 50 and 65, with no medical problems and recently had an Omicron infection, could probably wait,” she said.
Wen further stressed that, for the 50-to-65 age group, the decision to get an additional booster is one you should make with your doctor. “Some people might defer an additional booster as long as they are well-protected against severe illness,” Wen said. “Others want to avoid any infection, even mild and asymptomatic infections.”
In his conversation with Balance of Power podcast host David Westin, Fauci agreed with Wen that someone like Westin—who recovered from an Omicron infection—should certainly not worry about getting a fourth booster anytime soon. Those who have been vaccinated, boosted, and recently infected don’t generally need another booster in the “immediate future,” Fauci said.
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Currently, the CDC recommends anyone eligible for a first booster get one, with Fauci stressing this during an April 1 Yahoo Finance Live broadcast. Experts believe the third shot is critical, particularly when dealing with the Omicron variant. Wen echoed this sentiment and confirmed anyone who is eligible for the first booster should go and get it as soon as possible.
While those under the age of 50 are not yet eligible for the second booster—unless they meet specific criteria—questions still linger about when and if everyone will need the fourth dose.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, also known as VRPAC, held a meeting earlier this week to discuss potentially updating existing vaccines. As reported by Stat, the panel was not able to conclusively decide whether the current vaccines need to be changed to tackle new variants, or if another booster will be necessary.
Experts are currently weighing options and debating whether COVID vaccination will be more effective after three or four doses, or if it will require more frequent updates. When asked about potential annual COVID-19 shots, Wen said, “We don’t know yet. There are a lot of variables here, and only time—and ongoing research—will tell.”
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