Q&A on Updated Boosters: Our Newest Weapons in the Fight Against COVID-19 Are HerePublished: Sept. 15, 2023
While the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be behind us, we can’t let down our guard completely.
Coronavirus variants are still circulating, and the disease is causing severe illness. In recent weeks, COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are ticking up, and it seems like everyone knows someone who has recently had COVID-19.
What does that mean for you and your loved ones? Here’s a list of FAQs to help you make decisions that are right for you.
I thought COVID-19 was fading away. What do I need to know?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay. So just like dealing with cold and flu season, our best approach is to use strategies that will decrease the risk of getting sick. Our best option remains vaccinations and boosters.
The good news: New boosters were recently approved and recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The boosters are updated versions of the existing Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and are formulated to target the recent omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5. Although new variants have emerged since the development of the new boosters, they’re still a close match to all current circulating strains.
Why should people get a booster?
In the short term, the booster can help prevent COVID-19 infections. The longer-term benefits include protection against severe disease and lowering the chance of developing long COVID.
Who should get this booster, and when?
The boosters are approved for people 6 months and older, and they’re available now.
I strongly recommend that those with the highest risk for severe disease from COVID-19 get a booster as soon as possible. That includes people who are over 65, have weakened immune systems or have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity or chronic lung disease. Pregnancy is a risk factor for severe disease, so pregnant people should also get a booster.
The highest rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations are in people 75 and older, followed by kids under 6 months of age. So if I’m a caregiver of someone in those age groups or with other risk factors, I'd want to get a booster to help protect them.
What about younger, healthier people?
It’s still a good idea for these people to get a booster, but it’s not as urgent. Just like with getting the flu shot, I enjoy worrying less about being sick, missing work and having my kids miss school – so I make the time to get boosted.
The U.S. has had an annual surge of COVID-19 cases around Thanksgiving the past three years, so some people may want to try to time their booster ahead of travel plans or holidays. However, we can’t always time things perfectly. Your best bet is to get a booster when your schedule permits.
What about the flu shot or RSV vaccine?
With flu season beginning, it’s recommended that nearly everyone age 6 months and older get the influenza vaccination. If it’s convenient for you, you can get the flu shot and COVID-19 booster at the same time.
New this year: A vaccine has been approved for adults 60 and older to protect against RSV, a common respiratory virus that can cause serious illness and hospitalization. If you’re getting your flu shot and COVID-19 booster, you should wait a week or two before getting the RSV vaccination.
There are also new monoclonal antibody products aimed at protecting young children from severe RSV. But there are questions about insurance coverage and if these products will be available ahead of RSV season. Pediatric providers recommend getting the annual flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster, and they look forward to providing new RSV protection when it’s available.
What do I do if I become sick with COVID-19?
Nothing has changed here recently. If you develop concerning symptoms, you can always try a home test first. If you don't have a home test or it's negative and you’re still suspicious, contact your primary care provider for testing.
If you’re positive for COVID-19, it’s time to isolate. You should isolate at home and away from others for five days. If your symptoms are improving and you’re fever-free, you can end isolation but should wear a mask for five more days and avoid others who may get severely ill from COVID-19. Learn more about isolation guidelines here.
It’s been a hard road, but we’ve come a long way in understanding, preventing and treating COVID-19. We’re all part of the effort to keep it from spreading and harming others, and for many people, that means getting boosted.
As always, talk with your primary care provider about what’s best for you. Together, we can continue to push COVID-19 into the rear-view mirror.