Do I need a booster shot?

Since COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out at the end of 2020, scientists have talked about the potential need for a booster to maintain immunity over time. This is not a new concept; it is common to receive annual flu shots or get a tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDaP) booster after 10 years. For COVID-19, this would mean a second shot for people who received Johnson & Johnson, or a third shot for those who got Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. 

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise, and the more contagious Delta variant now accounts for over 80% of infections in the US. This emergence has heated up the discussion of boosters, with people wondering: How long will protections last? And how effective are the vaccines? 

Yes, vaccinated people are still protected.

Clinical trial results released this summer showed only minimal declines in effectiveness over time. Pfizer was still 91% effective after six months and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was still over 60% effective after eight months against any COVID-19 infection. 

Against the Delta variant, vaccines are doing their job well, especially against severe sickness. Studies found Pfizer to be 88% effective against symptomatic illness and 96% effective against hospitalization. Initial results for Moderna demonstrate similar levels of protection. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, data show that the vaccine is around 85% effective against critical illness.

Are boosters currently available?

The WHO has called for a moratorium of booster shots until September 2021, as the global priority is the large unvaccinated population. However, some countries made plans to deliver a booster to vulnerable populations. The United Kingdom and Germany secured additional doses for people who are immunocompromised and over 50. This followed Israel’s decision to offer boosters for people over 60. The US recently approved boosters of Pfizer or Moderna for people undergoing organ transplants or living with certain immunocompromising conditions. 

What are the experts saying about boosters?

At this time, public health experts recommend boosters only for those whose immune systems prevent them from getting full protection from the original dosage or are at extreme risk. The major concern? The inequitable vaccination among wealthier countries and the global vaccine shortage leaves billions of people unvaccinated and fails to stop widespread transmission. Here’s what leaders in the field have to say:

  • On August 12th, Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said of the authorization: “Today’s action allows doctors to boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from COVID-19. As we’ve previously stated, other individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time.”
  • On August 12th, WHO Director-General ​​Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a Times article: “WHO has called for a global moratorium on COVID-19 booster shots, at least until the end of September, to enable progress towards vaccinating at least 10% of the population of every country. So far, just over half of the countries in the world have reached that target, almost all of them high- and upper-middle income or vaccine-producing countries.”
  • On July 8th, the CDC put out a statement saying: “People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta. People who are not vaccinated remain at risk. Virtually all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among those who are unvaccinated. We encourage Americans who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their community.”

Last update: 13 Aug 2021, 20:00 ET

Science review: JAB, ERS