The most updated COVID-19 booster shot is tailored specifically to the omicron subvariants of the virus that are currently circulating, making it an especially important tool to stay healthy right now.
Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for Equity on the White House COVID-19 response team, spoke with LGBTQ Nation about why it’s crucial for all eligible Americans – which is everyone over the age of five who has already gotten their primary vaccine series – to get this shot.
“The Omicron variant has been really harmful across our society,” Dr. Webb explained, “but in particular now it’s these two subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, that make up the lion’s share of what we’re seeing. So, by having these bivalent-focused or specific boosters, we are priming people’s immune systems to be even more effective at fighting what’s out there right now, as opposed to what was out there two years ago.”
Dr. Webb also pointed out that most Americans have not received a booster since last fall, which means their immunity has waned.
For those who have received a booster more recently (though Dr. Webb emphasized there is only a sliver of the population that would have recently had the previous booster before it was no longer available), he said it is okay to get this new one as long as it has been two months since your last shot.
And for those who have had COVID-19 recently, he said to wait until it has been three months to get the booster since, for that amount of time, you still carry immunity from having had the virus itself.
For everyone else who has already had their primary vaccine series, the time for this booster is now.
“We’re right there, this is the time,” Dr. Webb declared.
Dr. Webb emphasized that now is a great time to get the booster before the holidays, when people will begin traveling and gathering in large groups.
Two weeks after receiving the booster, he explained, is when a person has their highest level of immunity to the virus, so getting it around this time will ensure your body is primed to fight off infection as we head into Thanksgiving and Christmas. Viruses tend to spike in winter anyway, he said, which also makes this a good time for a booster.
“As you head into the next couple of months… You [will] still have that really high level of protection…and that’s why the timing now is really good,” Dr. Webb said.
Dr. Webb is due for his own booster in early November since he came down with COVID-19 in August. He says he plans to get the shot a week before his three-month window is up because he wants to make sure he has the highest level of immunity before he goes to see the new Black Panther movie in theaters.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” he said.
Webb said the White House has been working to mobilize states to use the federal funding they have been given to make vaccine access as equitable as possible.
“The White House doesn’t give any shots in your community,” he said. “What we need to do is make sure the localities, the states have all the resources they need to be effective.”
He also said it is crucial to keep emphasizing the importance of ensuring equitable vaccine access.
“People, if they don’t hear that equity is central and is critical, they don’t design with equity in mind and they accept a certain level of disparity. And when it comes to COVID-19, that disparity can be the difference between life and death for communities that already don’t have as much access to care.”
“That’s where we really just keep that pressure on states and on localities, partner with local public health departments, encouraging folks to partner with community-based organizations…We use our federally-qualified health centers to help partner with community organizations because those are the folks people come to…and [they] can be most effective at really moving the needle.”
Two new studies out of Harvard and Columbia University have cast some doubt about whether the new boosters from Moderna and Pfizer offer more protection than previous versions of the shot, but it seems they at least offer the same level of protection.
The small studies found that the booster did offer a slightly increased level of protection but not enough to be statistically significant.
Still, a statement from FDA spokesperson Abby Capobianco to CBS News said that “even modest improvements in vaccine response to the bivalent boosters could have important positive consequences on public health.”
The results of larger studies currently being conducted by Pfizer and Moderna will be available soon.