Virus Expert Warns Boosted People to Do This 2 Weeks Before Gathering

Two years after the virus first emerged, the world is still fighting COVID. Thankfully, we’re…

Two years after the virus first emerged, the world is still fighting COVID. Thankfully, we’re in a much better spot than we were in 2020, thanks to the development of effective vaccines and other mitigation measures. In the U.S., more than 219 million people are fully vaccinated, and around 100 million of those have already received a booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But despite this progress, the coronavirus continues to spread. And cases are once again rising, largely due to the emergence of an even more infectious variant.

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In just the last week, COVID cases in the U.S. have increased by more than 35 percent, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, the dominant public health message has largely stayed the same: Get vaccinated and if you’re already vaccinated, get your booster. If you’ve done those two things, however, how can you keep yourself safe now that cases are rising once again?

On March 29, both the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended their guidance to authorize a second booster shot for certain individuals more at risk for severe COVID. According to the agencies, anyone who received their first booster more than four months ago and is at least 50 years old or moderately to severely immunocompromised is now eligible for an additional dose.

This decision was largely made based on the fact that the booster’s protection wanes quickly. Its effectiveness against hospitalization falls to 78 percent in just four months, according to a Feb. 11 study from the CDC. But officials have stopped short of saying individuals need to get a fourth COVID vaccine shot, and other health experts have debated its necessity, making it hard for eligible parties to determine if they should get their second booster and if so, when.

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One of the main concerns is that the extra protection afforded by this additional dose also appears to wane quickly and possibly even sooner that after the first booster. An April 6 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that in Israel—where officials began administering fourth doses of Pfizer to those over 60 in January—protection afforded by this second booster reached its peak four weeks after vaccination. After just a month, effectiveness started to wane.

This is why many experts are stressing the importance of timing when it comes to getting a second booster. “It’s like a coupon,” Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, said to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in reference to this additional dose. “Do you want to use it now or save it for later?”

Gregory Poland, MD, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Consumer Reports that boosted individuals who are getting another dose should consider doing so a couple weeks before they have the potential to be exposed to COVID.

“The best time to get this booster would be two weeks before you get infected,” he said. Of course, you can’t know exactly when you might be infected, but Poland explained that you can use your best judgment on when you’re likely to be exposed to the virus in the future by assessing your potential risks, like gathering with others, along with your health status and the current spread of the virus in your community.

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“I think it’s a real mistake to be discounting the importance of [second] boosters,” Topol said. “Sure, if you’re living in a cave, you don’t need to worry. But if you’re traveling and mixing with people, and you’re in an area where cases are rising, then I think it would be good to get a booster.”

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