As Covid cases and hospitalizations rise across the country, the message from federal health officials regarding the recalls is clear: don’t wait to get vaccinated. If you’re eligible, get it immediately.
“The threat to you is now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Getting vaccinated now will protect you now.”
But sorting out who is specifically eligible, how many shots people need and when they need them has baffled many.
Additionally, new versions of the vaccines are being developed that aim to specifically target the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. But those injections aren’t expected until this fall, raising questions about whether people should get boosters now or just wait.
Here’s what to know about Covid boosters.
Who can get a callback now?
Adults aged 50 and over are strongly encouraged to receive two booster shots.
Those who were initially vaccinated with one of the mRNA vaccines can receive the first booster five months later and the second four months later.
People 50 and over who originally received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can receive their first boosters at least two months after the first dose and a second booster four months later. Both boosters must be from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
Older people have had a higher risk of complications from Covid since the start of the pandemic. The Biden administration is particularly urging those 50 and older to sign up for boosters.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr Rochelle Walensky said at Tuesday’s briefing that people aged 50 and over who have received just one booster are four times more likely to die from Covid, compared to those in the same age group who received two booster doses.
Adults ages 18 to 49 are eligible for a booster dose, or a third vaccine in total, at least five months after their first round of vaccinations with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
Children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 can receive boosters as long as it has been at least five months since their first two doses of Pfizer. Children who initially received Moderna injections are not yet eligible for boosters.
Children aged 6 months to 4 years are eligible for the first series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; however, boosters are not yet recommended for this age group, according to the CDC.
The general guidance is that people aged 5 and over with weakened immune systems can receive additional injections sooner than the general population, often three months after their first rounds of vaccinations.
Do current boosters work against BA.4 and BA.5?
The current shots were designed to treat the original strain of the coronavirus. But as the virus has mutated, it has become increasingly adept at sneaking past the wall of immunity our bodies have built – through prior infection, vaccination, or both.
Currently, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron account for more than 80% of circulating cases. Experts say that current injections also do not prevent BA.4 and BA.5 infection. Indeed, breakthrough infections and reinfections are regularly reported.
Experts say the injections can, however, reduce the risk of an infected person developing complications from the virus.
“If you’re eligible for a booster shot, you should get it,” said Stanford University epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Dr. Jorge Salinas. “Even if it doesn’t fully protect you from infection, it can still mean the difference between a mild or severe infection.”
If I get a booster now, can I get another injection this fall?
Dr. Robert Hopkins, director of internal medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock, said he got about half a dozen calls from people asking that same question on a recent morning.
He advises his patients and even his colleagues who have asked him about it to get the booster shot now if they are eligible, as the new vaccines are, at best, at least four months away from public rollout.
“We don’t lose anything by getting vaccinated or boosted now,” Hopkins said. “And we are definitely gaining protection.”
The White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, Dr Ashish Jha, echoed the advice during Tuesday’s briefing. “Getting vaccinated now will not prevent you from receiving a variant-specific vaccine later this fall or winter.
“It’s not a compromise,” he said.
I just had the Covid. Do I need a booster?
Yes, as long as you have recovered from the acute illness, which means you don’t have a fever and have resumed your normal daily activities, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. in Nashville, Tennessee. That includes diagnoses over the past month, he said.
“There is no downside” to receiving the booster after an infection if you are eligible, he said. “It turns out that people who have recovered from Covid and then get a booster have the highest antibody levels.”
Walensky said she had seen “large amounts of data that demonstrated that if you have been infected before and also get vaccinated, you have a lot more protection than a previous infection alone.”
Should kids get boosters before school starts?
Paediatricians are encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated before they return to school if they haven’t already been vaccinated, even though new vaccines will indeed become available in the coming months.
“This fall the recommendation may change and there may be a new booster, but in the meantime your child will get the maximum possible protection from our current vaccines,” said Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician who is President. of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“It’s important, because the pandemic is not over,” he said.
Rarely, heart inflammation has been reported following Covid vaccination, particularly in young men. But studies have shown that such inflammation, called myocarditis, is far more common after Covid infection than vaccination.
While it is true that children have largely been spared the most serious consequences of Covid, their risk is not zero.
Besser said the fact that millions of children have been vaccinated should reassure parents.
“There is now a lot more safety data that should reassure parents about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” he said.
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