White House Covid coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on Wednesday that the newly updated Covid boosters will be available to teens and adults “in a few short weeks.”
“I believe it’s going to be available and every American over the age of 12 will be eligible for it,” Jha told NBC News’ Lester Holt.
The new boosters target the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the original strain of the virus. BA.5 accounts for nearly 90% of new Covid cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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The Food and Drug Administration will determine how well the updated shots protect against the virus, Jha said, adding that he expects that they should “work much better at preventing infection transmission and serious illness” than the current boosters.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday that he expects that the updated booster should provide stronger protection against any new variants that may emerge in the near future.
When should you get another booster?
Currently, adults ages 50 and up, as well as the immunocompromised, are eligible for a second booster four months after receiving their first.
With the new shots coming soon, should eligible people get their next shot now, or wait for the updated versions?
At first glance, when to get your next shot may seem straightforward: Waiting sounds like a reasonable option because the redesigned boosters should provide the best level of protection against the dominant circulating forms of the virus.
But it’s become an increasingly complicated question in a country where vaccine uptake has varied considerably and people carry different levels of risk.
Many eligible people in the U.S. are vaccinated, but have not received a booster shot. Some are double-boosted. Confounding matters further is whether a person has been infected or reinfected.
The level of immunity across the country is “strikingly different now than it was just a year ago,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said.
To make matters even more confusing, if people get their next shot early this fall, there is some concern among scientists about whether they’ll still have enough immune protection against the virus during the winter months, when Covid cases are expected to rise again.
Research has shown that antibodies generated from the existing vaccines begin to decline after only a few months.
“There’s not a clear-cut answer,” said Dr. Katherine Poehling, a vaccine expert and pediatrician at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist in North Carolina. Timing your next vaccine, she said, is about as tricky as “timing the stock market.”
The best way to time your next Covid shot may be to look at your individual risk factors — such as age and underlying conditions — as well as the level of spread in your community and the time since your last vaccine dose, experts say.
The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are often at the highest risk of severe complications from Covid, but so are other groups, such as those with diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease.
“I’d say that if somebody were in a community with a high transmission rate and they were very vulnerable, they may want to avail themselves immediately with a booster that is currently available,” said Dr. Ofer Levy, the director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
On the other hand, someone who is young, healthy and lives in a community where Covid transmission is low may be able to make the decision to wait for the updated booster, he said.
The existing vaccines that a young healthy individual already received should still provide “protection against the worst outcomes, which is intensive care unit admission and death,” he said.
To be sure, putting off vaccination until the updated booster becomes available is still a gamble for anyone: Covid cases are still high in the U.S., with more than 98,000 cases per day, on average, according to data from the CDC.
Furthermore, federal health officials still haven’t decided whether they will immediately distribute the updated doses to all U.S. adults or start with those most at risk, such as the elderly,
Whether officials make the vaccine immediately available to everyone who is eligible will depend on how much supply Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are able to manufacture and distribute by next month, according to a person familiar with the discussions. If supply is initially limited, the updated doses may first go to those most at risk, such as the elderly or the immunocompromised.
That strategy could mirror the U.K.’s, which is offering updated boosters next month to people over 50 and those whose jobs or health conditions put them at high risk. (The U.K.’s new boosters differ from the ones that will be offered in the U.S., in that they target the original version of omicron, called BA.1, that circulated earlier this year.)
Speaking at a webinar with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce webinar Tuesday, Jha said people, if eligible, should get a booster shot now, and that they should still be able to get the updated booster shot in a few months.
“My general feeling is no reason to wait, go get it, even if we’re only a few weeks away” from the updated booster, he said.
Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, agreed that people shouldn’t wait, noting that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to get the updated vaccines.
Levy, of Boston Children’s Hospital, said there’s no downside to getting an additional shot now if eligible: “I think folks should take advantage. We have safe and effective vaccines. Get immunized. That’s the bottom line.”