A friendly Family Medicine physician’s thoughts.
At this point in the pandemic, it’s easy to oscillate between feeling weary at the thought of more vaccines (Will we ever have had enough?!) and feeling panicked at the idea of being left unprotected (What if I don’t get a booster for my booster? Will I need a booster booster for my booster??). Many of us are also trying to do complex calculations about how much of an immunity bump our recent Omicron infections provided (yes, us too!). The data we have to guide us is complicated and sometimes inaccessible and the recommendations from our trusted sources are ever-changing. Although Those Nerdy Girls are doing our best to provide clarity, it can still be difficult to decide what to do for yourself and your family.
This is Nerdy Girl Megan checking in. As a family medicine physician, a big part of my job is helping patients understand available scientific data and make a personal decision about their own health care. So…
What do we know about the data for boosters? We know antibody levels start to decrease 4-6 months after a vaccine dose. They do not reduce to zero, so you still retain some protection much longer than that. However, with a booster you remind your immune system to stay alert for threats of COVID, providing you increased protection from severe symptoms, hospitalization and death.
Are they safe? Yes. Side effects are similar to the first booster dose: you may experience symptoms associated with reactivating the immune system such as mild fever, fatigue, muscle aches or headache. As we know from our first booster, these symptoms are short lived and manageable with rest and over the counter medications.
So who should consider an additional booster dose? Think of it this way: the higher the risk you are for severe illness from COVID, the more you may benefit from getting an additional booster dose now. This includes:
-People older than 65, even if they are healthy
-People 50 and older with chronic health conditions – this includes conditions such as cancer, asthma or emphysema, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic kidney or liver disease, stroke, dementia, depression and many others.
-People of any age with significantly impaired immune systems – this includes people on immune-suppressing medications such as prednisone, those undergoing active treatment for cancer, those who have had an organ or stem cell transplant, people who have untreated HIV, or those with a genetic immune deficiency.
If you fit in with one of these groups and it’s been 4 months since your first booster, now is a great time to start seeking a second booster.
This is general guidance to steer us. It can’t and shouldn’t replace individual discussion with your healthcare provider. Even if you don’t think you fit one of the above groups, if you feel uncertain about your risk, we encourage you to reach out to your health care team to make a plan for action.
And of course – if you haven’t had a first booster dose yet, we encourage you to seek one out now. That’s a party you don’t want to be any later for!
Stay safe. Stay sane.
Those Nerdy Girls