Covid-19 Vaccine Boosters — Do You Need One?
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
Are you paying attention to the news but still unclear about today's recommendations for the Covid-19 vaccine? If so, you're not alone. We've heard about meetings of special committees, meetings of FDA and CDC, and still sometimes the information seems as clear as mud. Let's talk about what the newest recommendations mean for you.
Nothing is set in stone
Keep in mind that recommendations for Covid-19 vaccines are likely to keep changing for awhile. That's because experts continually collect and analyze information about safety and efficacy. Don't let that throw you. The same thing happens with other vaccines quite often. It's just happening really quickly for Covid-19 vaccines.
The committee that advises the CDC on immunizations met yesterday. One of my professional pharmacy organizations summarized that meeting and provided some clarity. The committee had great reasons for the recommendations they made, and I'll do my best to explain.
No changes to vaccines doses for the immunocompromised
If you're immunocompromised due to a medical condition or medication, nothing has changed for you. The changes you heard about just last month, August 13, 2021, are still in effect. That means that if you had both initial doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna) you should get a third dose no sooner than a month after the second. The third dose is intended to be part of the initial vaccination series for you, so your body mounts an adequate initial immune response. It's not considered a booster, which is a dose that boosts immunity back up to its initial level.
If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you don't need an additional dose. At least not yet. Experts are still collecting information, so stay tuned!
So what about boosters?
I'm going to back up a little here to provide some context. People get booster shots routinely when their immune response to a vaccine wanes. You probably get a tetanus shot every decade. You may have gotten a pertussis booster sometime over the past several years, too. Booster vaccines aren't unusual.
The information experts have analyzed in recent weeks shows that the immune response to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine wanes over time. The data point to the likelihood that decreased immune responses are due mostly to age, not variants. So younger people showed far less change in immunity over time than those 65 and older. Interestingly, waning of the immune response to the Moderna vaccine isn't as prominent. Experts aren't convinced yet that those who are fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine need a booster, at least not at this point. And there isn't enough information yet about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
It's only about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
So the recommendations that were officially released by CDC today pertain ONLY to those who got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. And they are changes to the EUA (emergency use authorization) issued by FDA. (Pfizer/BioNTech does have full FDA approval for the initial 2-dose series in those who are 16 and older. But the full approval does NOT extend to vaccinating 12-15 year olds, giving a third dose to the immunocompromised, or giving a booster. I point that out in case you, like I, wonder sometimes what's actually FDA approved. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still completely under emergency use authorization at this time.)
If you're fully vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, you may be eligible for a booster. The booster shot will be the same dose as the first two. It can't be given any earlier than six months after the second shot, since it's not as likely to work as well. Here's what the CDC recommended today, and it's very much in line with the FDA's recommendations:
Nursing home and other long-term care residents - Eligible
65 and older - Eligible
50-64 with underlying medical conditions - Eligible
18-49 with underlying medical conditions - Maybe***
18-64, otherwise healthy who live or work in a situation where Covid transmission is high (health care or prisons, for example) - Maybe ***
*** Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the risks and benefits of a Covid booster for your individual situation. Together you can decide what's right for you.
If you're not eligible, that's GOOD NEWS!
If you're not in one of the above groups, and you're fully vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the experts believe you are still adequately protected by your initial vaccine series. Don't feel left out! Feel lucky that you don't need a booster at this time.
One last, but very important point Find your Covid vaccine record card (if you can) and take it with you when you go for your third dose or your booster dose. It'll be good to have all that information together in one place if you can.
I hope this article has brought some clarity to what can be a really confusing topic. If you have unanswered questions, please share them in the comments section below. Or you can always send a message directly by contacting us at BetterMyMeds!