Virus Expert Warns You Need to Do This to Avoid COVID After Vaccination
If you do this now, you'll have a lower chance of getting a breakthrough infection.
As COVID continues to circulate in the U.S., unvaccinated people are still most at risk for getting sick. Compared with those who haven't gotten the shot, fully vaccinated people have overall a much lower chance of getting hospitalized or dying because of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But even as the vaccines' protection against severe COVID stays strong, their ability to fight off infection altogether has waned over time and in the face of more transmissible variants, leading to breakthrough COVID cases. There was a rate of more than 100 fully vaccinated people per 100,000 getting COVID through August and September, per the CDC. That doesn't mean vaccinated individuals can't do something right now to increase their protection.
In order to better avoid these breakthrough infections, experts are recommending that all fully vaccinated adults in the U.S. get a booster shot now. This goes against the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which only expanded eligibility to certain higher-risk Pfizer and Moderna recipients.
"If you want to avoid a symptomatic infection and long COVID and you're 18 to 39, you would get a booster," Eric Topol, MD, a cardiologist and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said during a Nov. 17 interview on the NPR program All Things Considered.
For older individuals, there are additional reasons to get this third shot. "If you're 40 and above, you want to avoid hospitalizations and deaths in addition to a symptomatic infection, you'd get a booster," Topol said.
Topol is hardly the first virus expert in the U.S. to give this warning. On Nov. 9, Francis Collins, MD, departing director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), shared a blog post urging fully vaccinated people to go out and get their booster shot. Collins referenced real-world data from Israel, where researchers looked at more than 4.7 million fully vaccinated Israeli adults, with over 13,000 having breakthrough infections in July, and found a clear association between the rate of confirmed infections and the time that had passed since vaccination.
"While the Delta variant surely has played a role in the resurgence of COVID-19 in recent months, these findings suggest that waning immunity also is an important factor," Collins explained. "These data were a key factor in the decision by the Israeli Ministry of Health in July 2021 to approve administration of COVID-19 booster shots for individuals who'd been vaccinated at least 5 months before."
But while Collins urged people to follow guidance from the CDC, several states are no longer waiting for an official recommendation to expand booster eligibility. According to U.S. News & World Report, at least 15 states have decided to go ahead and expand booster eligibility to adults before the CDC and FDA: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Utah.
These decisions come as top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, recently warned about an increased risk of getting COVID while fully vaccinated this winter. "You're going to see breakthrough infections, even more so than we see now among the vaccinated," Fauci said during a pre-recorded interview that aired at the 2021 STAT Summit on Nov. 16, per ABC News.
According to Fauci, booster shots for all adults might be more essential than we first realized, so much so that he said it is likely that a third shot for an mRNA vaccine "should be part of the actual standard regimen." This is especially prudent as the infectious disease expert said breakthrough infections among those not boosted are already leading to serious consequences.
"What we're starting to see now is an uptick in hospitalizations among people who've been vaccinated, but not boosted," Fauci said during a separate interview with NBC News on Nov. 17. "It's a significant proportion, but not the majority by any means."
During All Things Considered, NPR reporter Will Stone added that virus experts like Topol are now saying that "the goal is not just to stop hospitalizations" when it comes to boosters for all adults—even though it is an added benefit. Instead, stopping breakthrough infections might just be important enough.
"The boosters can do more than [stop hospitalizations]," Stone said. "And this is also another way for people to get some extra protection, especially if you live in a place where vaccination is low and masking is optional."