Amid the COVID-19 surge caused by the now-dominant, highly contagious BA.5 subvariant, you might be wondering whether it’s time to re-up your booster shot. Your current ability to do so depends largely on who you are: Right now, a second booster shot is only available in the U.S. to people 50 and older, as well as some people 12 and older who are immunocompromised. But the Biden administration is working on a plan to administer second booster doses to everyone, regardless of age, as case numbers soar, The New York Times reports.
As William Shaffner, MD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, tells SELF, the earliest timeline that vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna are projecting for a second booster is fall.
“There isn’t any doubt that these downstream variants, BA.4 and BA.5, aren’t covered quite as well by the vaccines as was the original strain,” Dr. Shaffner says, adding that the current vaccines predate the surge in omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. “They’re good, but not perfect, and that’s the reason why both manufacturers are working on updating their vaccines, which they anticipate to have ready sometime this fall, and which will include something to protect against these variants. They talk about October, which usually means sometime in November.”
As Anthony Fauci, MD, the country’s leading infectious disease expert and the chief medical adviser to the White House, recently told The New York Times, there’s not yet enough evidence to support that healthy people under 50 need a second booster. However, he added that since most people in that age group received their booster shot in late 2021, the effectiveness of that dose is likely waning and potentially offering less protection against BA.5. Studies indicate that the vaccines’ effectiveness wane over time, which leaves people particularly vulnerable amid this latest surge. A second booster would help remedy that.
But we’re not quite there—yet. As has been the case with COVID-19 over the past two years, the situation is rapidly evolving. The New York Times reports the Biden administration could weaken its argument for second boosters by promoting them now, so officials may wait to make a strong case until the reformulated boosters are released this fall, given that they’re expected to be redesigned to better combat BA.4 and BA.5.
For now, the best protection against BA.5 remains the existing vaccines and boosters that are recommended for you—they still offer good protection against severe illness, even from BA.5, Dr. Shaffner says. To further reduce your risk of infection, you should follow the precautions we now know so well—wear a face mask, wash your hands well, test often, avoid overly crowded spaces if you are able to, and be ready to line up for your second booster once the time comes.