People who just had the virus should follow a different timeline for the bivalent vaccine, according to experts.
There’s a new COVID-19 booster shot available that provides better protection against the variants that are currently circulating. It’s a bivalent shot, meaning it targets both the original strain of the virus and the highly contagious omicron subvariants ― including BA.5, the current dominant strain in the United States.
Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, noted that the new booster shot is here in anticipation of a fall surge in COVID cases. (Keep in mind that the Moderna booster is only available for those 18 and up, while Pfizer’s booster is available for those 12 and up.)
So, when should you get your booster? As soon as possible, in order to help fend off a fall wave and keep yourself healthy. But while those who have not had a recent COVID infection can get their shot now, the timeline guidance differs for those who recently had a COVID infection.
Here’s what to know if you just had the virus:
You should wait at least two months to get your shot.
The official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that vaccinated people can wait two months after a COVID shot to get their booster. And the Food and Drug Administration authorized the bivalent booster in people who are at least two months out from their most recent COVID vaccination.
For those who were recently sick with COVID, though, both Ogbuagu and Dr. Andy Pekosz, co-director of the Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said you need to wait two months for the bivalent shot, but can choose to wait up to three months.
So, if you’re looking for a hard and fast rule, it’s safe to say you should wait two months after infection (or vaccination) to get your new shot.
Some experts, however, think you can actually wait longer. “There are some immunologists that think spacing that booster out longer might help generate longtime immunity,” Pekosz said. An infection should give you pretty good protection for four to six months, which means you probably don’t need to take the booster shot before then, he said.
But although immunity can last for four to six months in many people, that is not always the case, Ogbuagu said.
Ogbuagu agreed with the CDC’s guidance and noted that data has shown that immunity wanes in some people, particularly if they had a mild illness, before the two-month mark. While this is a rare occurrence, a Danish study from earlier this year did find that a small number of people were reinfected 20 to 60 days after their initial COVID infection. And there’s some evidence suggesting that newer subvariants can circumvent natural immunity more quickly.
“Anyone who recovered from COVID certainly can consider delaying vaccination, but I don’t think they need to wait as far out as three months,” Ogbuagu said.
Since the shot is so new, guidance varies and it may differ from person to person. If you were recently infected, you should wait at least two months after your infection to schedule your shot — and you can consider waiting up to six months. If you want specific guidance based on your personal health records, get in touch with your doctor.
In the end, Pekosz said, it’s better to get the booster than not get the booster, “even if it’s not an optimal time.”
But if you are high-risk, you should not delay too long.
Ogbuagu stressed that certain groups of people who are at high risk for COVID should not wait too long to get their booster shot. This goes for elderly people or people who are immunocompromised.
He noted that people who fall into these groups should not get the shot before the two-month mark, but they probably also shouldn’t wait much longer than two months to ensure they’re protected against the dominant strain.
Booster shots tend to work best when they’re spaced out from a previous shot or infection.
According to Pekosz, the reason behind the differing opinions about the timeline of the new shot is that booster shots traditionally work best when some time has elapsed since the previous infection or vaccination.
If an infection and the booster are too close to each other, “your immune system is [still] ramping up and you don’t get the real benefits of the booster,” he said. When you give your body ample time to drum up its immune response to an infection and then slow down, the booster can jump-start that immune response again, he noted.
While the exact timeline is still being debated, there are no safety concerns whether you decide to get your booster after two months or six months, Pekosz said.
And whether or not you recently had COVID, getting your booster is important.
“Vaccines are the best and safest way to strengthen your immunity,” Pekosz said. He noted that earlier variants of the virus provided better protection against reinfection, but this is not the case for omicron.
Plus, the latest bivalent COVID booster is a better booster, one that can keep you from developing severe outcomes like hospitalization and death. The new booster “improves your responses to the original vaccine and gives you protection from BA.5 that is currently the dominant variant in the United States and most of the world,” Pekosz said.
So, even if you had COVID recently, you should still get this new shot. That being said, if you were infected and are unvaccinated, you have to start the vaccination series from the beginning, Pekosz said. You can’t just jump ahead to this bivalent vaccine.
Whatever you do, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.
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