With new COVID-19 vaccines coming out in the fall, does it make sense for Utahns who haven’t gotten their booster shot yet to wait?
No, health experts say. The time to get an additional dose of the current vaccine is now, especially with the omicron subvariant known as BA.5 that’s driving up cases in Utah and the rest of the United States, as well as in Europe and other parts of the world.
“Postponing your booster leaves you vulnerable now, and new boosters are still months away,” said Nicholas Rupp, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department. “Even if current boosters don’t protect from infection with new variants quite as much, they do still strongly help prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death.”
That’s the primary goal of vaccination, Rupp said.
The BA.5 subvariant is more likely to infect someone who’s been vaccinated and boosted, as well as anyone who’s had COVID-19, even recently. The current COVID-19 vaccines are being reformulated to target omicron and its subvariants, and the federal government has ordered millions of doses expected to arrive in the fall.
Utah State Epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said there are as many recorded cases now as during the last surge from the delta variant of the virus, but the actual count is even higher since there’s less testing. The state turned over most testing for COVID-19 to private providers earlier this year, and home test results are not reported.
“We know our numbers are a significant undercount. So it does suggest we have a lot of transmission right now in Utah, so I think it’s totally appropriate to go get that booster,” Nolen said. She said there’s not much data yet on the shot’s effectiveness against BA.5, but booster doses did offer protection from the original omicron.
“The booster still had good effects against omicron,” Nolen said, helping people avoid becoming severely ill. “People who were vaccinated in the last three months were probably about 70% protected, so it does still suggest that will be true for this one.”
Both Nolen and Rupp said getting a booster shot now wouldn’t prevent someone from getting another, updated, dose in the fall.
“It’s our understanding that even if you get boosted at this time, you will still be eligible when the new ones come out,” Nolen said.
Less than a third of Utahns 5 and older who are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot have gotten an additional dose of vaccine, according to Utah Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus data, even though more than 67% received the initial series of the vaccine.
Rupp said it can be difficult to sort out if — and when — someone is eligible for a booster shot, and suggested Utahns use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Find Out When to Get a Booster” tool to help them figure it out for themselves and their family members.
“We understand it can be confusing about whether you’ve had the doses recommended for you based on your individual circumstances, so the new CDC tool is really helpful since you can select what applies to you and know immediately if you’re good to go or need to stop in and get a dose,” he said.
The CDC recommends at least one booster shot for everyone 5 and older, once they’re fully vaccinated — meaning they’ve already received a single initial dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
- For most Americans 5 and older, that means another shot at least five months after their final dose in that initial vaccination series of Pfizer or Moderna, or, if they are moderately or severely immunocompromised, they can get the booster shot sooner, at least three months after that final dose.
- But children and teens 12-17 years old who received the Moderna vaccine recently approved for that age group are an exception. For them, no booster shots are recommended at this time.
- Adults who received the Johnson and Johnson shot initially — including those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised — are advised to get a booster dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least two months later.
A second booster shot is recommended four months later for all adults 50 and older as well as anyone 12 and older who is moderately or severely immunocompromised. A second booster shot is not advised for children 5-11, nor are any booster shots for children 6 months to 4 years old, who recently became eligible for vaccination.