The Covid Vaccine Booster Shot: What We Know

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced August 18, 2021, that the United States would begin administering booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccines based on risk level and date of original vaccination. Recipients of the two-shot mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will be eligible for a third shot beginning September 20, 2021. What do seniors, their families and caregivers in San Diego need to know now about coronavirus vaccine boosters?

Why is a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot necessary?

The CDC announced that “the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States continue to be remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. [M]any vaccines are associated with a reduction in protection over time, and … additional vaccine doses could be needed to provide long lasting protection. … The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.

Who is eligible to receive a booster shot immediately?

As of August 13, 2021, the CDC advises that anyone with a moderately or severely compromised immune system should receive a third dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) as soon as possible (assuming they have already received the first two doses). The immunocompromised include anyone who has received, is receiving or is experiencing:

  • “Active treatment for solid tumor and hematologic malignancies
  • Solid-organ transplant and taking immunosuppressive therapy
  • CAR-T-cell or hematopoietic stem cell transplant (within 2 years of transplantation or taking immunosuppression therapy)
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (e.g., DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids (i.e., ≥20mg prednisone or equivalent per day), alkylating agents, antimetabolites, transplant-related immunosuppressive drugs, cancer chemotherapeutic agents classified as severely immunosuppressive, tumor-necrosis (TNF) blockers, and other biologic agents that are immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory.”

When will the shot be available to everyone not in this risk group?

The CDC says they “[a]re prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose. At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster. We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time, given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them.” This means that if you received your second dose of two on May 1, 2021, you will be eligible for the booster on January 1, 2022.

What if I received the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine?

The CDC says that “We also anticipate booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks. With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots as well.” According to the New York Times,  Johnson & Johnson says that “unlike the studies of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines, a study of 17 volunteers showed little change in their antibody levels over the course of six months. But the study also showed that when the volunteers were given a second shot six months after their first, their antibodies against the coronavirus jumped nine times higher than the level after the first dose.”

Though breakthrough cases are rarely causing hospitalization, their increased incidence means that the best way to stay safe until you receive a booster shot is to continue to observe all safety protocols. This means that the vaccinated who may have relaxed their mask wearing and social distancing need to resume 2020-levels of vigilance as soon as possible.