On September 22, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a single booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for specific communities. This booster dose is based on data that shows that a booster shot increases the immune response in previously vaccinated individuals. The results are promising, but you may be wondering, “Will I need a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot?” Read on for more information about the current booster shot guidelines.
Why Are Booster Shots Necessary?
While getting vaccinated is currently the best defense against COVID-19, recent data suggests that the protection afforded by vaccines may decrease over time, especially among immunocompromised individuals and frontline workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is due to several factors, including the highly infectious nature of the Delta variant. The CDC also explains that decreased immunity, or waning immunity, is an expected phenomenon that occurs with many viruses. Both of these factors point to the need for booster shots in vulnerable individuals.
Who Is Eligible for a COVID-19 Booster Shot?
Although the FDA has approved a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the booster is not available to everyone. At this time, the FDA has only approved the booster for the following populations:
Adults Aged 65 Years and Older
Per the FDA’s announcement, the Pfizer booster shot is now available for people aged 65 years and older. This designation is due to the fact that the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age.
Adults with Underlying Medical Conditions
Adults with underlying medical conditions between the ages of 18 and 64 may also get a booster shot “based on their individual benefits and risks,” according to the FDA’s announcement. As mentioned above, adults between the ages of 18 and 49 with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness; however, the FDA explains that this risk for these individuals is “likely not as high as it would be for adults aged 50 years and older who have underlying medical conditions.”
Adults at Increased Risk for COVID-19 Exposure and Transmission
The FDA adds that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 may get a booster shot if they are at increased risk of “exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting.” This includes adults who work or live in certain settings, including healthcare workers, school employees, and adults living in long-term care settings or homeless shelters. Adults who work or live in these settings are at increased risk of COVID-19 because of the way the virus spreads through close quarters. Adults who meet these criteria are asked to assess their “individual risks and benefits” before getting a booster shot.
Will Everyone Need a Booster Shot Eventually?
If you don’t meet any of the above criteria, you might wonder if you’ll ever need a booster shot. The CDC explains that additional populations “may be recommended to receive a booster shot as more data become available.” In the meantime, the COVID-19 vaccines approved and authorized in the United States are effective at reducing individual risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
Booster Shots Outside of the U.S.
United States health officials have issued relatively narrow approval for booster shots; however, across the Atlantic, European Union officials recently issued a much broader booster endorsement. The Wall Street Journal reports that Europe’s top drug regulator recently concluded that booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine “may be considered at least six months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older.” That includes healthy individuals without significant preexisting conditions. Meanwhile, in Israel, officials are suggesting that healthy individuals may be required to receive booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine six months after their second dose. This requirement would determine which individuals are eligible for a “green pass,” Israel’s system that only allows entry to restaurants, gyms, and other venues to fully vaccinated individuals.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, but one thing remains certain: The approved and authorized COVID-19 vaccines are currently the strongest protection against the virus. As researchers continue to explore boosters, more information will become available for individuals outside of the vulnerable groups listed above.
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