The FDA has authorized a second booster for the Moderna and Pfizer Covid vaccines for all adults over the age of 50. The science on the usefulness of another shot is incomplete, and experts disagree about whether people should get them.
Our team is big believers in making our own health choices. We think it is essential that people be given all of the information, speak to their doctors for the best advice and make decisions that fit their needs. One of the most frustrating things about the last two years has been that that process has been impossible. No one has all the information, and doctors cannot agree on their advice. We’re all left making decisions based on guesses, gut feelings and, often, politics.
We try to cut through that and help you make choices based on science. And in this case, the answer is that most people might not benefit from a second booster, at least not yet. The FDA says you can get the booster if it has been four months since your last shot and you are over the age of 50 or if you are over the age of 12 and have an immune deficiency.
Dr. Peter Marks of the FDA’s vaccine division said people who meet these criteria “should seriously consider getting another.”
But many disagree and say it’s useful for a narrower portion of the population. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that a second booster was “especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from Covid-19 as they are the most likely to benefit from receiving an additional booster dose at this time.”
The FDA is making its recommendation based on a small amount of information from Israel. The data had clear results and showed that a second booster was helpful, but it hasn’t been peer-reviewed, and the information came from just a 40-day time frame. The data was from people who had received a second booster. But everyone who got the shot decided to do so on their own, suggesting they were already risk-averse and could be taking other precautions.
Many experts are calling for different, more effective vaccines to be approved rather than simply giving more boosters. New variants call for new approaches. Some are concerned that boosters with the same vaccines will make the body less responsive. And these boosters may be coming too close together, causing a shorter-lasting immune response.
Antibodies from a booster wane quickly, after a couple of months, while the T cells it creates that recognize the virus later do not. Therefore, getting an antibodies boost might not make sense for you if the virus isn’t raging in your area. You might want to hold off until you need an extra boost of protection, like when a new variant crops up.
“It’ll be short-lived, so I think the timing is going to be key here,” said Dr. Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the Univ. of Washington. “If it’s not going to create a long-term, better quality immune response, then you question the value a little bit.”
Doctors go back and forth, making their own choices. “The Israeli study, in terms of mortality rate, is decisive,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco. He believes that there is merit to the second booster “If you’re more than five or six months out from your last booster, and you’re at high to very high risk.” He adds, “As a healthy 64-year-old man whose third shot was seven months ago, I will get one this week if I can.”
Knowing that doctors can’t agree is slightly unsettling. We prefer to hear “Nine out of 10 doctors say.” But, this is one case where you absolutely must look at all the information for yourself and decide what fits your needs.