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CDC recommends spring COVID booster for older adults

People 65 and older should get another shot to protect against the virus, the agency said Wednesday.
The spring booster will be the same shot that was approved last fall, which was formulated to target the XBB.1.5 subvariant.
The spring booster will be the same shot that was approved last fall, which was formulated to target the XBB.1.5 subvariant.Amy Beth Bennett / Tribune News Service / Getty Images

People at higher risk for the most severe complications of COVID — primarily those ages 65 and older — should get a booster shot this spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The CDC’s recommendation came hours after the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in support of the extra dose.

Another round of the vaccine given within the next few months would offer the best protection possible, the advisers said, ahead of another likely rise in illness this summer.

Over the past four years, there’s tended to be both a winter and a summer wave of COVID, with cases peaking in January and August, respectively, according to the CDC.

For that reason, advisers to the CDC said that the approach to COVID vaccination is still different from the strategy used for the flu, which typically only peaks during the winter.

“I hope that we are moving in the direction of getting more flu-like where there’s a really clear season, but I don’t think that we are there yet,” Megan Wallace, a CDC epidemiologist, said during a Wednesday meeting of the advisory committee.

The additional dose should be given at least four months after a previous dose for healthy older adults, or at least three months after a COVID infection. People with compromised immune systems may need additional shots.

“This gives us a great opportunity to remind people about the importance of vaccination,” said Marvia Jones, director of the Kansas City Health Department in Missouri, who was not involved in Wednesday’s ACIP meeting. “We certainly are concerned about the vulnerability of people in that age group when it comes to COVID-19.”

The spring booster will be the same shot that was approved last fall, which was formulated to target the XBB.1.5 subvariant. The vaccine is effective against the JN.1 subvariant, which is currently causing the vast majority — more than 96% — of new COVID infections in the United States.

On Wednesday, the advisory committee presented new data showing that the shot lowered the odds of being hospitalized with COVID in otherwise healthy people 65 years and older by up to 54%.

The CDC will publish additional details on that research Thursday.

COVID hospitalizations peaked at the beginning of January, with 35,000 hospitalizations a week. By Feb. 7, COVID hospitalizations had fallen to around 20,000 a week.

Throughout the last year, weekly hospital admissions for COVID never dipped below 6,000, the CDC said. The vast majority have been among older adults, 65 and older.

The number of COVID deaths are also decreasing. Still, at the lowest point last summer, the CDC reported about 500 COVID deaths a week.