COVID-19 Booster Shots Urged for Anyone 50 or Above

Confusion surrounding just who should get COVID-19 booster shots addressed in latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Americans traditionally go home for the holidays, but public health officials hope to ensure that they don’t bring an uninvited guest—COVID-19—along with them. Nobody’s forgetting what happened last holiday season, as the vaccines stumbled out of the gate while health care systems dealt with a fierce COVID-19 surge. This year, about 60% of the US population has gotten 2 doses of the vaccine, but medical experts warn that that might not be enough on two counts. First, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appears to be backing away from a fixed vaccination rate needed to ensure herd immunity—it has varied throughout the course of the pandemic from 70% to 85%—medical experts say that there’s still too many Americans who remain unvaccinated. Second, the definition of being fully vaccinated may be shifting to having 3 doses of the vaccine.

The messaging about booster shots has been muddled, some experts claim. The CDC last Friday laid down rules that agency officials hope will streamline the message. Under the new guidance, anybody 18 or older can get a booster if they’re 6 months out from getting the double-dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Those who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can get a booster 2 months out. In addition, everybody can mix and match vaccines.

“After critical scientific evaluation, today’s unanimous decision carefully considered the current state of the pandemic, the latest vaccine effectiveness data over time, and review of safety data from people who have already received a COVID-19 primary vaccine series and booster,” Walensky said in a statement. “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. Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose.”

In addition, Walensky wants Americans 50 and older to get the booster shot. The CDC guidance on booster shots says that “people ages 50 years and older should get a booster shot. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age and can also increase for adults of any age with underlying medical conditions.”

CDC adviser Matthew Daley, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Colorado, tells the Associated Press that “It’s a stronger recommendation. I want to make sure we provide as much protection as we can.”