Want an updated COVID-19 booster shot? Well, if you’ve recently had the virus, you’ll need to wait.
“Spacing out the time between infection and vaccine doses improves the long-term antibody responses,” Dr. Hannah Imlay, a University of Utah Health assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters during a virtual news conference earlier this week.
So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends holding off until three months after a COVID-19 infection before getting the new booster shot now targeted at the currently circulating strains of the omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the original virus, Imlay said.
“The idea being, you’ve got a lot of immune priming from your infection. You get a lot of immune priming from your most recent vaccine dose. So wait some time before getting the bivalent booster,” she said, using the term that describes the shot’s new dual targeting.
But there are exceptions.
“That’s a general recommendation. If you’ve got something big coming up, for example, something where you might be likely to be exposed, or you’re immune compromised, you may want to do that booster sooner than the three-month window,” the doctor advised.
There’s already a recommended wait of at least two months after either the primary COVID-19 shots — that’s two initial doses of Pfizer, Moderna or the recently approved Novavax vaccine, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson, which is no longer advised for most people — or a booster dose.
“People who got the previous boosters are quite well protected,” especially against severe disease that leads to hospitalizations and even death, Imlay said. “However, we’ve noticed that immunity against just any kind of (COVID-19) infection tends to wane after a few months. So this is supposed to be a new prime of your immune system.”
Timing the booster, now available to anyone 12 and older, is “a little bit difficult,” Imlay acknowledged.
“I’ve got to say that one of the most confusing things has been when you’re supposed to get vaccinated. All of the intervals have been very different. So the time between the primary series, the time between the first booster, the time between etc., etc., has all been different and very difficult to navigate,” she said.
It’s so confusing that the doctor said she still looks up the CDC’s recommendations for the shots “every time.”
No one knows for sure yet how long it will take before the protection offered by the new booster shots begins to wane, she said, but data collected from the past booster shots suggests “a very good, robust response” against acquiring COVID-19 for at least four to six months, and even longer against severe illness.
That means for those eligible for the updated booster dose, getting the shot now would provide protection over the upcoming holidays. Because it takes some time for the immunity to fully kick in, Imlay suggested scheduling a booster shot at least 10 days before “a potentially high-risk exposure period.”
Of course, the duration of the new booster shots is also dependent on what strains of the virus they’re fighting off, she said, warning that if there’s “a surprise variant that’s very different than what the vaccine targeted,” that could limit how long they remain protective.