Federal health officials this week updated their recommendations for coronavirus vaccinations to allow people who are at least 65 years old or immunocompromised to receive a second updated booster shot to strengthen protection for the most vulnerable Americans, even as the virus recedes.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the additional shot for those high-risk groups, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signed off Wednesday after the agency’s vaccine advisers met to discuss its benefits. People who are eligible for additional boosters should be able to get them later this week.
Federal health officials also simplified coronavirus vaccinations for everyone going forward. Anyone getting a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot — whether a booster or first-ever vaccination — will now get an updated vaccine, known as a bivalent shot, not the original vaccines, called monovalents. Health officials say the bivalent shots more closely match the circulating virus. For unvaccinated adults, that means one shot instead of several doses of the original vaccine.
Many people are likely to have questions about who should get a second booster, the best timing and what the recommendations mean for younger age groups. The changes for young children are more complicated. The recommendations will vary by age, vaccine and which shots they received previously. The CDC plans to post a detailed chart with recommendations for children under 6.
Should I get a second bivalent booster?
If you are at least 65 and received your first bivalent booster at least four months ago, you are eligible to get a second one. The CDC says there are about 20 million adults in this age group who received a booster at least four months ago.
If you are immunocompromised and received a bivalent booster at least two months ago, you are also eligible to get a second one. People with weak immune systems can receive additional doses at intervals decided by their doctors. These include people who have received organ or stem cell transplants, people with advanced or untreated HIV infection, people undergoing treatment for cancer and people who are taking certain medications that weaken the immune system.
Eligibility for extra doses for immunocompromised children 6 months through 4 years old will depend on which vaccine they have already received.
What if I’ve been vaccinated and had a recent COVID-19 infection?
If you’ve had a recent infection, federal health officials have said, you can delay getting a shot for 90 days. But as long as your symptoms are gone and you are eligible for an additional booster, you can get vaccinated if you want.
Can I get the updated shots at the pharmacy where I got my first booster?
Yes. CVS and Walgreens plan to update their scheduling systems to allow for online scheduling and walk-in appointments later this week.
What should I do if I haven’t gotten any coronavirus vaccine yet?
If you are unvaccinated, the CDC now recommends that everyone 6 and older receive one updated bivalent shot (either Pfizer or Moderna). Nearly 19 percent of the U.S. population has not received a coronavirus vaccine. This latest change means most unvaccinated people can get one dose instead of multiple shots of the original vaccine.
What should I do if I have already gotten my initial shots but not a booster?
Anyone who’s gotten their original vaccinations but hasn’t had an updated booster yet can still get one. For most people who have completed this primary series, the recommendation is the same: Get an updated coronavirus vaccine, which is the bivalent shot. About 20 percent of all adults have gotten an updated booster since September, when they were first rolled out, according to the CDC.
Is there a concern about getting too many vaccines?
CDC officials and experts say there is no evidence to suggest that multiple doses of coronavirus vaccine have a negative impact on your immune response. “There is almost certainly benefit to people at higher risk of hospitalization or death, because of the additional protection against infection in the two to four months after the last vaccine dose,” said Jay Varma, an infectious-diseases expert and professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine. The updated bivalent shot bolsters protection against newer variants of the virus and strengthens immunity that may have waned over time. Federal officials say data indicates that the updated bivalent shot is beneficial against serious illness, although its protection fades over time, in a way similar to the original vaccines.
Laurie McGinley contributed to this report.