Updated COVID boosters will be available this fall. The new formulas received a green light from both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week. Manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, respectively, the boosters, known as bivalent vaccines, were designed to better target the highly infectious, dominant omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. Pfizer’s booster is authorized for anyone 12 years or older, while Moderna’s can be given to anyone 18 years or older.
This marks an “important milestone” in the country’s pandemic response, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, said in a press briefing earlier this week. Anthony Fauci, MD, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, also said, “in the absence of a dramatically different variant,” getting an updated COVID vaccine will likely become an annual recommendation, much like the flu shot.
This year, the FDA and CDC both recommend getting the updated booster if it’s been two months since your last COVID vaccine—but some infectious disease experts are questioning that timing on social media.
Monica Gandhi, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has emerged as a valued COVID-19 information source during the pandemic, tweeted that she would suggest waiting at least four to six months to get your updated booster, whether that’s after your last COVID infection or your last COVID vaccine. E. John Wherry, PhD, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, also agreed that four to six months “is likely a good rule of thumb.”
Dr. Gandhi tells SELF there’s research to consider when thinking about the timing. She points to two scientific papers (one published this month and one pre-print waiting on peer review) that suggest there are many people who have already been infected with COVID-19—up to nearly 80% of the population in some countries—which would provide them with a baseline level of immunity to protect against severe disease. So, she argues the need for the updated booster isn’t as urgent for people who have been recently infected and fully vaccinated. She also cites the “B-cell argument,” and posits that getting a booster too soon after a prior infection or previous dose could stunt your body’s B cells (a type of antibody) from responding as effectively as they should to the updated booster. All that said, there’s much more research that needs to be done.
So… when is the best time to get your new COVID booster?
“Optimal timing depends on an individual’s unique characteristics,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. That includes things like your personal risk of developing severe COVID, as well as how long it’s been since you were last boosted or infected with the virus. He agrees that “getting boosters too closely spaced together may compromise the effect,” but notes that “we have no human clinical data to say how far apart they should be spaced.”
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