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What You Need to Know About Boosters: The Latest

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You may be worried that your immunity against COVID-19 is dwindling.

If you were fully vaccinated more than 6 months ago, it may be, says Binita Patel, PharmD, MS, vice president of pharmacy services at Memorial Hermann Health System.

So when should you get a booster—and when will you be eligible?

Here’s the real deal from Dr. Patel:

Q. I heard boosters were recommended after 8 months. Now I’m hearing 6 months. Why the change, and what does it mean for me?
A. Originally experts thought immunity would remain high for 8 months. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised the timeline after its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) studied the latest data. “It shows immunity begins to wane at 6 months,” Dr. Patel says.

Q. Should I get an antibodies test?
A. No. That step is unneeded, she says.

Q. Should I get my booster now?
A. Right now only those at the greatest risk of getting COVID-19 due to low immunity should get their booster. This includes those aged 65 and over, healthcare workers, people living in long-term care facilities and those aged 50-64 with cancer, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or other immunocompromising conditions and therapies.

For more information, ask your doctor or go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html.

The CDC also urges nurses, first responders and others aged 18-49 with jobs that put them at high risk of catching the SARS-CoV-2 virus to get boosters.

Q. Can I wait longer?
A. You can, but since your immunity starts to dwindle at 6 months, you could be more vulnerable to catching a mild to moderate COVID-19 case. It’s best to get your follow-up shot.

Q. Must I get the same vaccine as before?
A. You should not mix products if you have the option to continue with the one you had before, because the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have yet to determine the efficacy of doing so. At this point, Dr. Patel says, “They’re not interchangeable.”  

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is looking at whether getting a different type of vaccine will alter immunity, but results are not yet known.

Second doses of the slightly different Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine have yet to be endorsed—though in the past week Johnson & Johnson, like Moderna, submitted research to the CDC with a request to approve follow-up doses. 

Q. What will happen to my immunity over time if I don’t get a booster?
A. Your protection against the coronavirus and future variants (such as delta) will continue to drop, making you more vulnerable to variants. “The nature of viruses is to replicate and transform over time, so there will be more variants,” Dr. Patel says.

Q. Can someone receive a booster at a different location than the previous doses?
A. Yes. Bring the vaccination card that you got at your first inoculation appointment. It shows which vaccine you received and the dates of your shots.

If you do not have or misplaced your original card, contact the site where you got your first shot or your state health department to find out how you can get another one. Those who enrolled in v-safe or VaxText after their first dose can access their records via those tools.

Q. When will boosters open up to the general public?
A. “That’s yet to be determined, though studies are being reviewed,” Dr. Patel says. “It may happen by the end of this year.”

Q. What are the side effects for booster shots? 
A. Soreness and redness at the injection site that lasts a day or so is most common. Fatigue or mild fever and stomachache are possible.

“Consider those a good sign: Your body thinks it has an infection and is fighting it.”

But fear not: None of the vaccines contain the actual virus, so you cannot catch coronavirus from them.

Q. Could an oral pill replace vaccines and boosters?
A. It’s possible that an antiviral pill called molnupiravir will be an option.

The oral drug from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics slashed by half the risk of hospitalization or death in non-hospitalized adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases.

Merck plans to ask the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), following a large-scale trial which was stopped early due to clear benefits.

The information in this article is accurate as of October 13, 2021.

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