Heather Hazzan via SELF
Even though the country is still seemingly awash in unvaccinated folks, the question on the minds of many is: Is it perhaps time for another COVID shot? Delta cases are surging, the CDC reversed its prior directive to take off the masks… The news feels bleak! The obvious solution feels like it would be: Get more shots in arms. Except, not so fast. Even though epidemiologists have long floated the idea that boosters are inevitable (and they may still be), now isn’t the time to worry about scheduling a second (if you had a one-dose vax) or third (if you had a two-dose vax) booster appointment. So why are we hearing so much about boosters now, and what will even be in them? To learn more, VICE spoke with MarkAlain Dery, an infectious disease doctor in New Orleans. Here’s everything you need to know (at least for right now) about COVID-19 boosters. Will it change in the future? Maybe, but this is our advice for the moment.
Two big reasons!The first is that, on July 28, Pfizer released a study announcing that its two-dose COVID vaccine regimen loses effectiveness over time. Before look at your vax card and freak out: The study has yet to be peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, suggests only a very slight decrease in efficacy (about a six percent decline every two months), and still maintains a very high effectiveness against severe illness. In that same study, Pfizer also said a third shot could improve immunity. Along those lines, Dery said Pfizer will likely seek FDA approval for a third shot this week. The other reason is that, as you probably know, COVID cases are surging in large parts of the United States, though largely among the unvaccinated. The primary variant in the country at this point is the highly contagious Delta variant. So far, the vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness caused by Delta. But breakthrough cases are possible, and vaccinated folks can still spread COVID. All of these concerns—and the possibilities of re-masking, locking back down, etc.—rightfully have people wondering: Is it time for another shot?
Why am I hearing so much about boosters right now?
Not yet!While epidemiologists have said for months that a booster shot will likely come at some point, the time isn’t now. As the New York Times reports, scientists and epidemiologists aren’t so sold on the Pfizer study. While a third shot would mean a multi billion-dollar boon for Pfizer, scientists told the Times they aren’t concerned about the tiny drop in efficacy, or in any kind of urgent need for a booster. At least not yet.
OK, so when are boosters happening then?
Dery said what’s likely happening is that Pfizer is getting its ducks in a row, for if and when a booster shot is deemed necessary by the CDC. “I think it’s smart of Pfizer to start doing these studies; it’s in their best interest to have this data available,” Dery said. “So is a booster shot coming? It’s hard to say. Right now, it’s just very likely to come.”
You can’t and shouldn’t get another shot yet.While the New York Times recently reported on a small number of people who are taking questionable measures to get their own ad-hoc boosters, it’s not time for anyone to get additional shots just yet. Dery said that, in all likelihood, the state health department won’t allow you to get vaccinated again if you’ve already received your full vax regimen (which is why, as the Times reports, people doing acts of subterfuge like going out of state or even out of the country to get additional shots). Though a recently published study (not yet peer reviewed) suggests that the J&J shot isn’t as effective as the mRNA vaccines against the Delta and Lambda variants, the CDC still does not recommend boosters for anyone. It’s possible that, in the future, those who got the J&J shot will get a second vaccine, but that time hasn’t yet arrived.
I got the Johnson & Johnson shot and heard I should be looking into getting a booster because of the Delta variant; what’s the deal with that?
Frankly, we don’t know yet!If there’s a message to be gleaned from all of the extant news about boosters, it is: TBD! Dery said it’s impossible to know what a COVID booster will look like right now, even though the news is abuzz with booster talk. It could look like a second shot for the Johnson and Johnson crew and a third for those who got an mRNA vaccine. It could look like an annual booster, like the flu shot. Or it could even look like some kind of combo flu + COVID shot that we all get every year. Dery laid out all of these possibilities. Right now, though, what you need to do is what you’ve hopefully been doing for the past nearly two years: Follow CDC guidelines. While the CDC recently said there’s no need for boosters just yet, the organization did just issue new mask guidelines, urging even those who’ve been vaccinated to wear masks indoors again (particularly if you live in an area with high transmission). If/when a booster comes and is deemed necessary, the CDC will let us know. Until that time, wear a mask and put faith in the vaccine you already have. Or, you know, if you’re not vaccinated, find a way to remedy that. Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.