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The FDA just authorized a second COVID-19 booster for older adults

Immunocompromised people can get another booster dose as well.

Some people in the U.S. will soon be able to get a second COVID-19 booster shot. The Food and Drug Administration just authorized the Pfizer and Moderna booster doses for use in people ages 50 and older, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

Specifically, the FDA adjusted its previous emergency use authorizations for those vaccines to allow people ages 50 and older to receive a second booster dose at least four months after their previous shot. People who are at least 12 years old and are immunocompromised may also receive another booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. And those who are at least 18 years old and immunocompromised can get another booster shot of the Moderna vaccine, the FDA said.

While all adults in the U.S. have been able to receive a booster shot (typically the third dose) since this past November, some immunocompromised people have been able to receive a fourth dose since October.

Boosters became an especially important tool with the rise of the omicron variant, which was more transmissible than previous versions of the virus. It also appeared to hit at a time when the protection from the first vaccine series was waning, making boosters essential, experts said.

This latest authorization comes as the pandemic is shifting, yet again: BA.2, an even more transmissible subvariant of omicron, is now the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. Older adults and people who are immunocompromised continue to be those most at risk for severe complications due to COVID-19.

“Current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals. Based on an analysis of emerging data, a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could help increase protection levels for these higher-risk individuals,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the press release.

“Additionally, the data show that an initial booster dose is critical in helping to protect all adults from the potentially severe outcomes of COVID-19," Marks said. "So, those who have not received their initial booster dose are strongly encouraged to do so.”

While it's not clear how many booster shots we'll ultimately need, experts told TODAY previously the answer will depend on how long protection from the boosters lasts and the potential emergence of another variant that evades vaccine-provided immunity. Companies are also working on variant-specific booster shots that may be used in the future.