Do You Need a COVID-19 Booster Shot? The CDC and FDA Finally Weighed In.
For many vaccinated people, the question of whether or not they need a COVID-19 booster shot has been on their minds lately. Now the country’s top health agencies have chimed in on the discussion, and their stance is clear: Nope, we don’t need boosters yet.
Booster shots are additional doses of a vaccine administered after the initial dose, meant to ramp up your immune system’s response to that particular pathogen. When it comes to COVID-19, “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time,” reads a joint statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on July 8.
Scientists at the CDC and FDA remain highly confident in the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., even against more contagious and rapidly spreading variants of the virus, like delta. “The United States is fortunate to have highly effective vaccines that are widely available for those aged 12 and up,” the statement reads. “People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as delta.” The statement emphasizes that it is unvaccinated people who are at risk.
That said, the agencies aren’t ruling out the possibility that a booster dose will be necessary at some point in the future, and are continuing to study the issue. The CDC, FDA, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are “engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary,” according to the statement. They will evaluate incoming evidence on an ongoing basis, including data from labs, clinical trials, and cohort studies. “We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed,” the statement reads.
The CDC and FDA statement reflects the general consensus among experts: They’re not convinced we need COVID-19 booster shots right now, but are open to the possibility in the future, depending on how the pandemic and vaccine efficacy research evolves.
A COVID-19 booster shot could stimulate your body to create more antibodies against the virus, and strengthen your body’s defenses against it, as Krutika Kuppalli, M.D., pandemic preparedness expert and assistant professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, previously told SELF. These boosters could be another dose of the same vaccine formulation, or a new formulation targeted to protect against specific variants. And they might be something everybody gets, or they might only be needed in certain populations that are particularly vulnerable (such as immunocompromised people).
Experts think we may need COVID-19 booster shots if the immunity they offer starts to fade after a certain period of time. But since the COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been around very long, the length of time for which they remain effective is not yet clear. (Some data so far looks good: Pfizer and BioNTech have continued to monitor their two-dose mRNA vaccine, and report that it’s still 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infections after six months, which is down from 95% initial protection.)
We might also need boosters if the virus mutates in ways that make the original vaccines significantly less effective against those strains. As the CDC and FDA note, so far the vaccines generally appear to remain pretty effective against coronavirus variants like delta. Additional research could indicate otherwise, though, and vaccine makers are already testing boosters in the event we need them down the line.
What we actually urgently need right now—to curb the spread of the virus and reduce the opportunities it has to mutate—is for more people to get the highly effective vaccines we already have. The CDC and FDA note in their statement that nearly all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in people who are not vaccinated. The agencies urge anyone over the age of 12 “to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their community.”
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