Covid vaccine boosters may be on the horizon for all American adults – and according to new research, the move may be just in time.
On Tuesday, Pfizer asked the US Food and Drug Administration to approve booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine for all Americans aged 18 and older. The FDA can approve the request before Thanksgiving, according to the New York Times.
Moderna is expected to submit a similar request to the FDA “soon,”[ads1]; the Times noted. Any new party with qualifications must still be approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they become official.
If the FDA and CDC approve Pfizer’s request, every adult in the United States who is currently fully vaccinated – more than 181 million of them – will be booster-eligible. At the moment, the only ones who can get booster shots are:
- those who are 65 years and older
- adults at high risk of exposure to Covid due to work or life situation
- adults with certain underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for serious Covid disease
- everyone who got Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine
Nearly 25 million American adults have received a Covid vaccine booster injection so far, according to CDC data.
In September, an FDA advisory group actually voted against approving boosters for people aged 16 and up. At the time, experts said, two doses of the mRNA Covid vaccine still provided adequate protection against serious hospitalization and death for young, healthy Americans.
But now, an influx of new data points to the benefits of widespread boosters, Christopher Mores, a global health professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, tells CNBC Make It.
Here’s why, and if it’s a good idea to get that booster shot – once you qualify.
Why Covid vaccine booster shots are more important now than they were in September
The first rationale for distributing booster shots was simple: Some people needed extra protection against Covid to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, but most did not. For most fully vaccinated individuals, getting Covid meant extremely mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.
That calculation has changed, says Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. The virus that causes Covid continues to spread, mainly due to millions of people remaining unvaccinated, and vaccine protection declines more significantly over time than experts expected two months ago.
This means that the chances of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people – with potentially serious symptoms – increase. Booster shots, Kelley says, can increase antibody levels enough to prevent these infections and return any breakthrough symptoms to a mild or non-existent condition.
Last month, an Israeli study of 4.8 million vaccinated adults compared the incidence of breakthrough infections in humans four to six months after being fully vaccinated. After six months, the frequency almost doubled to 3.3 cases per 1,000 people – up from just 1.7 in four months.
“While the Delta variant has certainly played a role in the resurgence of Covid-19 in recent months, these findings suggest that declining immunity is also an important factor,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins wrote in a blog post Tuesday. . about the Israeli study.
Similarly, a large study of Covid vaccines in US veterans published last week found that for all three of the country’s approved alternatives, protection decreased significantly in people who had been fully vaccinated for six months – down to 48.1%, from the original 87.9 %. . All three vaccines, the study noted, are still very effective in preventing death.
“Boosters have a role there to pick it up, and not let so many breakthroughs happen,” Mores says.
Why you should consider getting a booster as soon as you qualify
Everyone’s individual health and risk profile is different, so consider consulting your doctor before proceeding – but in general, most people should get a booster syringe when they are qualified. It is a choice with low risk and high reward, experts say.
“There is no indication that there is anything inherently risky about getting a booster of this vaccine,” Mores said. “There is definitely something inherently risky about being infected with Covid.”
You should especially plan for a booster shot if you want to be indoors with other people during the winter months, or travel over the holidays, says Dr. Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The bigger question may be which booster you should have. Anyone who qualifies can receive a booster dose of any of the country’s three authorized vaccines, regardless of which one they first received.
Adult women under 50 should consider an mRNA booster from either Pfizer or Moderna, says Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in the Department of Infectious Diseases. This is because J & J’s vaccine can in rare cases lead to blood clotting disorders for that demographic.
Similarly, both mRNA vaccines have been associated with increased incidence of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, especially among younger men – but Kelley says such cases are very rare, extremely mild and fairly easy to treat.
“It’s very important to think of the booster as a way to more safely return to normal life,” says Khan. “That’s really the goal here: not to continue living in a pandemic world, but to try to get past it.”
Register now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter
Do not miss:
Mix-and-match Covid vaccine boosters are here – How to choose the best one for you