With COVID cases are on the rise again in the Triangle and around North Carolina, one way to keep yourself safe is by getting vaccinated against the virus — and by getting booster doses when you’re eligible for them.
Initial booster doses have been available to all adults in the U.S. since November 2021, with additional groups becoming eligible since then — including children ages 5 to 11, who became eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
And since March of this year, certain groups — those who are 50 and older or are immunocompromised — have been eligible for an additional, second booster dose.
But in its guidance about second booster doses, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that even if you’re eligible for a second booster, you may consider waiting to get your second booster if you “feel that getting a 2nd booster now would make you not want to get another booster in the future.”
So, should you wait to get a second booster, or should you get it now, as cases are surging? How long will your second booster be effective?
For answers to those questions and more, The News & Observer talked with Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist with UNC Health.
Here’s what we learned. (Spoiler: It’s probably a good idea to go ahead and get your second booster dose, if you’re eligible.)
Who is eligible for a second COVID vaccine booster?
The following groups of people are currently eligible for a second booster of a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine:
▪ Adults ages 50 and older.
▪ Adults ages 18 and up who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
▪ People who received two doses — the one-dose vaccine, plus a booster — of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Children ages 12 to 17 who are moderately or severely immunocompromised are eligible for a second booster of the Pfizer vaccine only.
Children ages 5 to 11 are not eligible for a second booster dose, but the FDA authorized this week an initial booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group.
Note: Johnson & Johnson vaccines are not administered as second booster doses. You must get a Pfizer or Moderna shot as your second booster.
When can you get a second COVID vaccine booster?
If you are eligible for a second booster dose, you can receive it four months after you receive your initial booster dose.
If you’re eligible for a second booster, should you get it now or wait?
In its guidance on second booster doses, the CDC outlines two scenarios when eligible people might wait to get their second booster:
▪ You’ve had COVID within the past three months.
▪ You “feel that getting a second booster now would make you not want to get another booster in the future,” either because “a second booster may be more important in fall of 2022” or because “a new vaccine for a future COVID-19 variant” could become available.
But cases are surging now, months before fall 2022 — so is it a good idea to get a second booster now? Yes, Wohl said.
“I feel people should not wait to get the booster that they are eligible for,” he said.
“Boosters make a difference and waiting to get the shot and allow for a surge now because of wanting to be protected later from a surge that may happen does not make sense,” Wohl said. “There is a lot of COVID-19 being transmitted right now.”
In particular, Wohl said people who are 70 and older “are particularly at risk” and should get their second booster shot immediately.
And even if you’ve had COVID in the past few weeks, Wohl still advises you get a booster when eligible, though if “they wanted to wait a month or so, I would not argue (much) with them,” he said.
As the CDC suggests in their guidance, “better vaccines in terms of durability and protection against variants are very likely,” Wohl said, but that shouldn’t keep you from getting a second booster now, if you’re eligible.
“Until then, we boost to beat back the pandemic, keep people out of our ICUs and funeral homes, and allow us to enjoy relaxing of mitigation strategies,” he said.
How long will a second booster dose be effective?
In talking about how long a second booster dose will be effective in fighting the virus, Wohl cited data from Israel, where adults ages 60 and older were given a fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
▪ The fourth shot, or second booster, “added extra protection against serious COVID-19 and this was still evident months after the shot,” Wohl said, while “protection from mild, symptomatic infection waned after about a month and a half after the fourth shot.”
“So, a fourth shot protects for a while from getting even a bit sick and longer term from getting really sick,” Wohl said. “This is why people should get a booster now to protect them during this surge.”
Additional information about second boosters
More information about COVID booster shots is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html.