If You Can't Get a Booster Yet, Do This Right Now, Experts Say
Put a little effort into making sure you have the maximum COVID protection you can.
After months of debating the need for booster shots, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed off on additional shots for select groups of people. The agencies say that Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are 65 years and older or younger and at high risk for COVID can get another dose six months after the second shot, while all Johnson & Johnson recipients can get a second dose two months after their first. As a result, millions of people are now eligible for boosters and more than 15 million people in the U.S. have already gotten an additional shot, per the CDC. But officials from both agencies have said that they could end up expanding the eligibility for booster shots soon, as more data is gathered. In the meantime, experts have offered some advice to those who think they can't get a booster yet.
Several virus experts, including Bernadette Boden-Albala, MPH, director of the University of California, Irvine's public-health program, recently told Business Insider that the booster eligibility requirements currently put in place by the FDA and the CDC aren't actually as restrictive as they sound. "The guidelines are unnecessarily complex, but there is a fair degree of latitude," David O'Connor, PhD, a pathology professor at the University of Wisconsin, told the news outlet.
As a result, more people are likely eligible for boosters than they realize. "If you think about it, and you read what the CDC says, there's a lot of people basically that should get boosters," Boden-Albala said, adding that "the majority of people are going to meet one of the criteria."
In terms of underlying medication conditions, there are more than 15 conditions that qualify you for a booster, according to the CDC. This includes common conditions like diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy, as well as cancer, stroke, and tuberculosis. And the agency just added a new group to its list of underlying medical conditions that make someone higher risk for severe COVID: mood disorders.
On Oct. 14, the CDC confirmed that "having mood disorders, including depression and schizophrenia spectrum disorders, can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19." According to The Washington Post, this made millions more eligible for boosters simply based on their mental health diagnosis.
But even the CDC notes that its list does not cover all the possible underlying conditions that could put you at higher risk of severe COVID. "If you have a condition not included here, talk to your doctor about how best to manage your condition and protect yourself from COVID-19," the agency advises.
The same idea applies to the definition of occupational exposure, experts say. First responders, education staff, and grocery store employees are just some of the workers the CDC currently lists as at increased risk for COVID exposure, but both the agency and O'Connor note that these are merely examples. "If you're going to be exposed to the virus, then you're potentially in a high-risk environment. There's enough latitude right now that you can self-select yourself into one of those groups, if you are so inclined," O'Connor told Business Insider.
Many states, like Kansas, Maryland, and Iowa, are following a self-attestation system, in which patients don't need to prove that they are eligible for a booster and can receive an additional shot wherever vaccines are being given. But some experts caution young, healthy individuals against seeking out a booster just to get one.
Anna Durbin, MD, an internal medicine infectious diseases trained physician, and professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNBC that the benefit of a booster for this group is "limited." An additional shot does increase antibody levels, "but you don't need that now" if you're young and healthy, Durbin said. "You want to save that for later."
In the end, many experts simply recommend talking to your doctor before getting an additional shot. Vivek Cherian, MD, an internal medicine physician at Amita Health in Illinois, previously told Best Life that it's a good idea to talk to your doctor or a healthcare provider and "have a conversation weighing the risks and benefits," especially if you may be more at risk for a rare, adverse reaction after getting one of the vaccines.
But if you're one of the people who thinks you can't get a booster and want one, it's time to double check your eligibility. "People need to really look and read through the eligibility for boosters and then, if they're still confused about whether they should get a booster or not, they should talk to their healthcare professional because a lot of people are going to be covered," Boden-Albala told Business Insider.