Booster shots are already being administered across the country and hundreds of thousands have either received a third dose already or scheduled an upcoming appointment to get it. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have only authorized additional shots for certain groups of people who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago. The FDA isn’t set to consider a Moderna booster dose until Oct. 14. And while you might be able to talk some providers into an additional shot of Moderna, despite them not being authorized to do so, virus experts say there are legitimate reasons why you should wait.
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Anna Durbin, MD, an internal medicine infectious diseases trained physician and professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently told CNBC that booster shots shouldn’t be the focus for most people right now, especially those who are not yet eligible. “People just want their freedom back, and they’re hoping boosters will make that happen. Boosters aren’t going to make that happen. Vaccinating people who are not vaccinated is what’s going to make that happen,” she said.
According to CNBC, virus experts say there are three reasons Moderna recipients in particular should wait on boosters: They’re already well protected, getting a booster before they’re eligible will make it harder for the CDC to track vaccinations, and waiting might actually lead to better protection.
The Moderna vaccine is the most effective against severe COVID right now, according to the latest data. A Sept. 24 study from the CDC found that this vaccine was still 93 percent effective against hospitalization for U.S. adults without immunocompromising conditions amid the Delta surge from March to August, while Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines had dropped to 88 and 71 percent, respectively.
According to Durbin, that’s the entire point of the vaccines, which means that mild breakthrough infections aren’t enough to warrant getting a booster before you’re eligible. “To expect the vaccine to prevent all symptoms is really unrealistic. What we want to do is prevent severe cases and hospitalizations,” she said.
William Moss, MD, the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNBC that booster guidance may change if vaccine protection wanes enough that it no longer reduces the risk of developing severe COVID.
In the meantime, Moderna recipients should wait until they’re eligible, because doing so early makes it hard for the CDC to accurately track how many people are vaccinated. The CDC uses this kind of data to make recommendations and offer guidance, so there could potentially be real consequences if it isn’t accurate. “It messes up the numbers if people aren’t honest about it,” Moss said.
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Waiting for a booster shot might also benefit you in the long run, experts say. If you hold off, more advanced boosters—particularly ones that are targeted for specific variants—could be available by the time you’re eligible. Moderna announced in May that it was working on a variant-specific, strain-matched booster candidate, mRNA-1273.351.
“There could be new variants that arise, that could come into the United States, in which case we may need a booster,” Durbin said. “But only time is going to tell us that.”
Top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, also recently pleaded with Moderna recipients to wait on boosters. He said the FDA’s decision should come “relatively soon,” and the agency might determine a different dosage amount for the booster shot. According to Fauci, Moderna has tested additional shots of both 100 micrograms of mRNA, which is how much the first two shots had, and 50 micrograms, or half the original dose.
“We do recommend for people who have gotten, originally, the Moderna, to wait. They should know that for the most part, they are still really quite protected,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director said during a Sept. 29 interview on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. “Wait until the FDA comes out with the determination and follow the ultimate recommendation of the CDC.”
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