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Get That COVID Booster Sooner Rather Than Later, Experts Say

by Mikael Harris
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Between the emergence of the Omicron variant and an impending winter COVID surge, people may be wondering when they should get their COVID-19 booster shot. And public health experts agree: now is the time.

The increase in antibody levels from a COVID-19 booster shot will not only protect people from the widely circulating Delta strain, but also has the potential to provide additional safeguards against the newly discovered Omicron variant.

“If you’re eligible today, then you should receive it today,” said William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “It will very quickly raise your antibody levels, and they will be sustained through the holidays.”

The CDC states that individuals who received two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at least 6 months ago, or people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot at least 2 months ago, are eligible for a COVID booster. After Omicron was first detected on U.S. soil, the agency recently changed its language around those recommendations, stating that all adults ages 18 and up should get a booster.

Experts suggest that ideally, people get a booster shot two weeks ahead of holiday gatherings and travel to ensure they have optimal protection. However, antibodies will surge in that first week after inoculation — so people should not be deterred from getting a booster shot if their events are quickly approaching.

A COVID-19 booster shot can provide additional protection not only against severe illness from the Delta variant, but booster doses may also prevent symptomatic breakthrough infections, according to the CDC. Antibody levels drop between 4 and 6 months after an initial immunization, but a booster dose produces a surge of antibodies that prevent infection and later, illness.

“Immunity, we now know, wanes over time,” said Leana Wen, MD, MSc, an emergency physician and professor of health policy at George Washington University. “A third dose can restore very strong protection against the Delta variant, which is still by far the dominant variant here in the U.S.”

While there is a lot of uncertainty around Omicron, the strain still accounts only for a handful of cases in this country, Wen noted. Because the Delta variant — which is responsible for nearly all of the 90,000 new infections in the U.S. each day — is still driving the spread, it’s important to communicate to patients that a booster will protect them from that continuous threat.

“Boosters should not be seen as a nice-to-have luxury,” Wen told MedPage Today. “At this point, they are urgent and essential.”

It’s still unclear if current vaccines will protect against Omicron, but experts say the new strain is another reason to go out and get a booster shot. Omicron has more than 50 mutations, 30 of which are in its spike protein, leading some experts to hypothesize that our current vaccines may be less effective against it.

But while scientists are still collecting data on the Omicron variant, and will likely have better data about vaccine efficacy in the coming weeks, infectious disease experts say that a boost can only be helpful. Higher antibody levels from a booster shot will provide an extra layer of protection, and could potentially improve patients’ immune response, said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at the Emory University School of Medicine.

“We don’t know if it’s going to help you, but it’s definitely not going to harm you,” del Rio told MedPage Today.

Schaffner said that we may eventually need a variant-specific booster. But because current vaccine formulas are available now, he added that it is critical for patients to receive their shot to protect themselves and others in the current state of the pandemic.

“A vaccine deferred is often a vaccine never received,” Schaffner said. “So get your booster now. And if we need another one down the road… we can act at that time.”

Amanda D’Ambrosio is a reporter on MedPage Today’s enterprise & investigative team. She covers obstetrics-gynecology and other clinical news, and writes features about the U.S. healthcare system. Follow

Source : MedPageToday

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