• With Omicron-specific COVID-19 boosters coming in the fall, people eligible now for a booster may wonder if they should wait.
  • Reformulated boosters may be available in October.
  • Currently, Americans 5 years and older are eligible for a first booster.
  • Adults ages 50 years and older, and some people ages 12 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, are eligible for a second booster.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised vaccine makers to include a component in their COVID-19 vaccines that targets the highly transmissible Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which account for over 80 percent of cases in the United States.

These reformulated vaccines — which will also include the original vaccine component — could be available as early as October.

This leaves people who are eligible now for a first or second booster with a choice:

Should they get boosted now to increase their protection against the current wave of the coronavirus?

Or wait until the new vaccines that target the Omicron subvariants are available, possibly this fall?

Once the FDA approves the bivalent boosters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will weigh in on who can and should get the new booster.

Based on what the FDA has said so far, anyone eligible for a booster — first or second — would receive one of the new bivalent boosters when available. The current vaccine would be reserved for people’s primary series.

Currently, Americans 5 years and older are eligible for a first booster.

In addition, adults ages 50 years and older, and some people ages 12 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, are eligible for a second booster.

US health officials are also working on a plan to allow all American adults to receive a second COVID-19 booster, according to CNN.

The timing for boosters ranges from at least 2 months to at least 5 months after a person’s last dose, depending on a person’s risk and the vaccine they received originally.

The CDC has an online tool to help you determine when to get a booster. This is based on the boosters that are currently available.

Dr. Susan Huang, who specialized in infectious disease at UCI Health in Orange County, California, said the current COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide strong protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

But she said in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariants, the vaccines offer limited protection against mild-to-moderate disease.

“[This] suggests that all ages from 6 months and up should be given the opportunity to boost with the new multi-valent vaccine when it becomes available,” said Huang, a medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Health and a professor of infectious diseases at UCI School of Medicine.

In addition, because the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in those 12 years and older — and the Moderna vaccine for those 18 years and older — she expects these age groups will be eligible for the new bivalent vaccines in the fall.

People eligible now for a booster need to decide whether to get boosted with the current vaccine as soon as they are eligible or wait until the fall for the new bivalent one.

This is a conversation that people may want to have with their doctor or other healthcare professional, who can help them weigh the benefits and risks of waiting until the fall to get boosted.

Huang said because the new boosters won’t be available until at least October — assuming there are no delays in production or FDA approval — she recommends that people get boosted as soon as they are eligible, with whichever vaccine is available.

Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, agrees, especially since coronavirus cases are on the rise again in parts of the United States, driven by BA.4 and BA.5.

“Waiting until the fall to get boosted won’t protect you over the rest of the summer while we’re having this upswing,” he said.

In addition, “there’s nothing to prevent you from getting the booster now and then getting the updated booster later,” he said.

On July 13, coronavirus cases were averaging around 140,000 per day, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

This is an undercount of the true community spread of the virus, due to more people using at-home tests — the results of which aren’t usually reported — and many people not even getting tested.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, which are a more accurate reflection of community spread, are around 40,000 per day — almost as high as in November 2021, before the Omicron wave hit.

Huang said people eligible should also consider getting boosted now because the CDC is likely to recommend waiting for at least 2 to 5 months after their last dose before getting the new booster.

“Getting the booster now provides enough time for such a ‘lock-out’ period to pass by the time October rolls around,” she said.

Although COVID-19 boosters have been available in the United States for months, about half of people eligible for a first booster have not received one, according to CDC data.

In addition, around 30 percent of people 65 years and older — a higher-risk group — have not received their first booster. The rate is even worse for the second booster.

Lee strongly recommends that older adults and people with weakened immune systems get boosted as soon as they are eligible.

He also thinks people who are at higher risk of coronavirus infection — such as healthcare workers, teachers and others in contact with many people throughout the day — consider a booster now.

“These are the two categories of people where it might be more favorable to get boosted now,” he said.

Some people who have been infected recently with the coronavirus may be tempted to skip the booster when they are eligible.

While infection offers some immune protection, with the Omicron subvariants, it’s no guarantee against reinfection. Even prior infection with BA.1 doesn’t preclude reinfection with BA.5, according to recent research.

“We know immunity wanes with coronaviruses, whether that is [gained through] natural infection or vaccination,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said at a July 12 briefing.

“So if you’ve been infected or vaccinated and your time comes for a boost, that’s when you should go and get the boost,” he added.

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