Millions more vaccinated adults across the U.S. became eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot and yet, the vast majority of vaccinated Americans were already eligible — many just didn’t know it.
According to an October survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 in 10 vaccinated adults were unsure if they qualified for a booster. So far, just 32 million Americans have received a booster, or around 18% of the more than 182 million adults who are fully vaccinated.
In announcing the latest recommendations, public health experts at the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC expressed hope that they would cut through the confusion, simplifying the decision for Americans who are wondering: Do I need a booster shot?
Here’s what the experts say.
Should you get a booster?
The question has been hotly debated for months but a larger pro-booster consensus has formed over the last couple of months.
Why? A number of reasons, including rising cases in more than half of U.S. states right before a busy summer vacation travel season.
The FDA and CDC made the updated recommendation on last month. It expanded booster access to all adults who were vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer over six months ago, and while the recommendation was stronger for everyone over 50 to go get a boost, it applies to everyone who is immunocompromised.
For Johnson & Johnson recipients, the recommendation already applied to everyone over 18, anytime two months after their shot.
For experts who have long been loud proponents for booster shots, it was a long time coming.
“Enough is enough. Let’s get moving on here,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House and a leader at the National Institutes of Health, said at an event Wednesday, before the FDA and CDC made the final call.
There’s no doubt that immunity wanes. It wanes in everyone. It’s more dangerous in the elderly, but it’s across all age groups,” Fauci said, citing data from Israel and the U.K., where more people were vaccinated sooner and began to first document waning immunity.
“When I got my third immunization, why was I so eager to do it? Well, of course I didn’t want to go to the hospital or ICU, but also I didn’t want to get COVID,” Hotez said.
“I didn’t want to get gray matter brain degeneration and cognitive decline and have a brain scan that looks like somebody 20 years older.”
But for those still on the fence, Dr. Anna Durbin, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, laid out risk scenarios to consider.
“It really comes down to your comfort level and just what’s going to make you as a person feel safer,” Durbin said.
If you’re traveling overseas or live in areas of high transmission, if you’re elderly or have underlying conditions or are frequently out in the community for work, those are all reasons to get a booster, Durbin said.
For young, healthy people who don’t feel at risk, Durbin said to keep an eye on rising cases in your area. Consider getting a booster to help tamp down transmission, but also to protect yourself ahead of a surge, Durbin said.
“If we’re gonna see a new wave, it’s going to be over the winter months most likely. And if you get boosted now, that’s going to provide you really good protection through that period of time,” Durbin said.