This week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized a second COVID-19 booster shot for adults age 50 and older as well as immunocompromised people age 12 and older.
If you fall into one of those groups, should you get another booster dose? With falling case numbers in the U.S. — but also the emergence of a new variant (BA.2), the answer depends on your specific health risks as well as the local COVID-19 situation where you are, Dr. Richard Besser, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told TODAY co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb.
Who should get a second COVID-19 booster?
With the new FDA authorization, people who are 50 and older and received their previous booster dose at least four months ago can get another dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines. Those who are immunocompromised — and received their last dose of the vaccine at least four months ago — can get another dose of the Pfizer vaccine if they are at least 12 years old. Or they can get another dose of the Moderna vaccine if they are at least 18 years old.
Following the FDA's decision, the CDC updated its recommendations as well. "This is especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19 as they are the most likely to benefit from receiving an additional booster dose at this time," said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement. "CDC, in collaboration with FDA and our public health partners, will continue to evaluate the need for additional booster doses for all Americans.”
But rather than rushing out immediately to get a second booster just because you're in the eligible age group, "this is one of those things where people should think thoughtfully" about their decision, Besser said.
Older adults, especially those with underlying conditions like diabetes or heart disease, have a higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19, he said. "You're in a group where you might benefit from getting that extra booster dose."
Are there any disadvantages to getting another booster dose?
Although you might experience those familiar temporary side effects due to the vaccine, it is generally safe, Besser said.
But you may want to take some complex calculations around the timing of your shot into account. "If you're in an area where (cases are) really low and you get the booster now, and two-to-three months from now the rate goes up higher, I don't know if you're going to have the same protection than if you wait a couple of months," Besser explained. "So that's why I would say pay attention to what's going on locally."
And it's true that different areas of the country will have different COVID-19 landscapes. Although cases across the country overall are down significantly following the peak of omicron's surge, the rate of decline is slowing. And BA.2 is picking up steam — especially in the Northeast. This variant, technically a subvariant of omicron, is now the dominant strain in the U.S. and worldwide.
If you have a primary care doctor, ask them about your options.
The decision about when to get this particular booster shot may need to be more individualized than for previous COVID-19 vaccine doses. "This is one of those situations where talking to your doctor really matters," Besser said. "And, unfortunately, in America, there are tens of millions of people who don't have doctors to talk to."
Over the past two years, the pandemic has widened the health care gap between high- and low-income people in the U.S. And now, funding to cover the cost of testing, vaccines and treatments for those without health insurance is in peril, NBC News reported.
"I really worry, if Congress doesn't provide the administration with additional funds, then we're going to be in a situation where people who have insurance are getting vaccinated and are getting access to drugs and treatment, and people who don't have insurance are going to be in a much more difficult situation," Besser added.