On Jan. 7, 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded its endorsement of COVID-19 booster shots to children age 12 and older and recommended boosters for immunocompromised children ages 5-11, citing rising infections in teens and young adults and a troubling increase in pediatric hospitalizations. This follows the CDC’s endorsement on Nov. 19, 2021, of booster shots for all adults, age 18 and older.
Although COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to provide strong protection against serious illness and hospitalization, no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing disease. Immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines diminishes over time, but recent data show that adding a booster shot offers improved protection against all variants, including the highly contagious omicron.
“Although hospitalizations for breakthrough infections in those who have been vaccinated have increased with omicron, most often those are people who have underlying medical conditions that affect their immune response,” said BJC chief quality officer Hilary Babcock, MD, a Washington University infectious diseases specialist. “With omicron, about 70% of COVID-positive inpatients at BJC hospitals are unvaccinated. And only about 1 percent of our COVID-19 inpatients have had a booster shot. If you are fully vaccinated and have had a booster shot, chances are you won’t end up with a serious illness or in the hospital.”
The CDC also updated its recommendation for when many people can receive a booster shot, shortening the interval from six months to five months after completing the primary series of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine (two months) has not changed.
The only vaccine available to those younger than 18 years of age is the Pfizer vaccine. Americans age 18 and older who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can get a booster of any available coronavirus vaccine five months after the second shot. Those who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine may get a booster dose of any available vaccine two months after their first shot.
COVID-19 infections are at an all-time high … and rising
The new CDC endorsement and recommendation for booster shots comes at a time when infections are at an all-time high in the U.S. — and are expected to rise significantly over the next few weeks.
On Jan. 17, 2022, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a total of 1,444 patients hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19, another new record. The count includes 211 in the ICU with 119 requiring ventilators. Regional patient COVID-19 discharges totaled 35,959.
“With the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis community, the new CDC recommendations on booster shots come at a critical time,” said Dr. Babcock. “It’s important for all who are eligible to get a booster as soon as possible to help minimize the risk of getting infected and any potential hospitalizations. Anyone who hasn’t yet gotten vaccinated at all should start their vaccine series as soon as possible.”
Vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness from any type of COVID-19. Health authorities are urging everyone who’s eligible to get a booster dose for their best chance at avoiding infections or illness from the highly contagious omicron mutant.
Children generally suffer less serious illness from COVID-19 than adults. But child hospitalizations also are rising during the omicron wave — and most of the children hospitalized are unvaccinated.
What are the new CDC booster shot recommendations?
According to the CDC, everyone age 12 and older should get a booster shot. If you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine, the CDC now recommends getting the booster shot five months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series, instead of waiting six months as previously recommended. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the J&J vaccine (2 months) has not changed.
Choosing your COVID-19 booster shot
Adults may choose which COVID-19 vaccine to receive as a booster shot, but availability varies by vaccination site. Some people may prefer the vaccine type they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. The CDC’s recommendations allow for this type of mix-and-match dosing for booster shots. The only vaccine available to those younger than 18 is the Pfizer vaccine.
Bring your COVID-19 Vaccination Record card to your booster shot appointment so your provider can fill in the information about your booster dose. If you did not receive a card at your first appointment, contact the vaccination site where you got your first shot or your state health department to find out how you can get a card.
For the latest vaccine and booster shot recommendations from the CDC, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html.
COVID-19 boosters and the flu shot
Dr. Babcock said that area flu numbers have begun to rise along with COVID-19 cases. “The best way to prevent the spread of either is to get the vaccines for both,” she said. “The COVID-19 vaccine and booster and the flu shot can decrease transmission of each virus.”
The flu shot can be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine or booster, Dr. Babcock said and encouraged those who haven’t gotten their flu shot to do so.
“If flu cases continue to rise, it will increase the burden for our hospitals, so please get the flu shot to protect yourself and others.”