The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strengthened its recommendations for COVID-19 booster shots Nov. 29, encouraging all adults to get boosters six months after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or two months after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
On Nov. 19, the CDC had endorsed booster shots for all adults, age 18 and older, expanding eligibility to millions of fully vaccinated individuals. The Nov. 29 recommendations go a step further, noting that all adults “should” get a booster dose of the vaccine.
On Dec. 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, at least six months after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The new advice comes amid rising infection rates— not to mention the looming holidays, colder weather and the emergence of the new Omicron variant.
According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the region has grown 63% in a little more than three weeks, to 364 on Nov. 30 from 223 on Nov. 7, and the Delta variant still remains a threat, even as scientists worldwide are turning their attention to the newly identified Omicron variant.
“With the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis community and the Omicron variant arriving in our area as well, the new CDC recommendation encouraging all adults to get a booster shot comes at a critical time,” said BJC chief quality officer Hilary Babcock, MD, a Washington University infectious diseases specialist. “It’s important for all who are eligible to get a booster as soon as possible to help minimize the risk of getting infected and any potential hospitalizations. Anyone who hasn’t yet gotten vaccinated at all should start their vaccine series as soon as possible.”
“In addition, while case rates are rising, everyone should continue to wear masks when indoors, social distance, get tested at the first sign of even mild symptoms and stay home if you don’t feel well, to keep us all better protected during this holiday season.”
What are the new CDC booster shot recommendations?
According to the CDC, everyone age 16 and older should get a booster shot. If you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, you should get the booster at least six months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get the booster shot at least two months after completing your primary COVID-10 vaccination series. The only vaccine available to those under 18 years of age is the Pfizer vaccine.
Choosing your COVID-19 booster shot
Adults may choose which COVID-19 vaccine to receive as a booster shot, but availability varies by vaccination site. Some people may prefer the vaccine type they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. The CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of mix-and-match dosing for booster shots. The only vaccine available to those under 18 years of age is the Pfizer vaccine.
Bring your COVID-19 Vaccination Record card to your booster shot appointment so your provider can fill in the information about your booster dose. If you did not receive a card at your first appointment, contact the vaccination site where you got your first shot or your state health department to find out how you can get a card.
COVID-19 boosters and the flu shot
The holiday season means spending time together with family and friends, mostly indoors, where viruses, including both COVID-19 and the flu, can spread more easily.
“There is really no way to tell COVID-19 and the flu apart, other than testing, since they have similar symptoms,” Dr. Babcock said, noting that most testing sites now test for both COVID-19 and the flu.
She added that area flu numbers have begun to rise along with COVID-19 cases. “The best way to prevent the spread of either is to get the vaccine for both,” she said. “The COVID-19 vaccine and booster and the flu shot can decrease transmission of each virus.”
The flu shot can be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine or booster, Dr. Babcock said and encouraged those who haven’t gotten their flu shot to do so.
“If flu cases are high this winter, it will increase the burden for our hospitals, so please get the flu shot to protect yourself and others.”
CDC director encourages booster shots
CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, says booster shots are important for a couple of reasons. “Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays,” she says.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” Dr. Walensky adds. “Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant.
“I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well, because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness. I also want to encourage people to get a COVID-19 test if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify Omicron quickly,” Dr. Walensky added.
“And finally, to stop the spread of COVID-19 we need to follow the prevention strategies we know work.”
Schedule your COVID-19 booster shot at a BJC facility.