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CDC's Updated COVID Booster Recommendations

In February 2023, CDC's panel of experts updated their recommendations for COVID boosters moving forward based on the main goal of preventing severe disease (not necessarily infections). We know that some people may have more questions, so we wanted to dive into the reasoning behind these recommendations a bit more.

This was written in February 2023. We like to leave these articles active for reference, but please review newer Kinsa articles for the most up-to-date information!

The summary from CDC's panel of experts? For most folks, one shot per year is enough moving forward. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that the FDA will recommend higher-risk individuals to get an additional booster.

The goal of having one booster per year for lower-risk folks was to address:

  • How complicated the vaccine guidance has been so far. Up to this point, when you’re due for a shot has depended on your age and type of vaccine received. It’s been hard to keep track of (even for us…and it’s our job).  One shot per year simplifies this to be similar to our annual flu shots.
  • The evidence that most adults now have some immunity from receiving the vaccine, being infected, or both. This means there is a larger “wall of protection” against future waves of COVID-19 (assuming a new variant doesn’t come along and bypass those defenses). This is likely why, even though there have been new variants of the virus over the past several months, we haven’t seen huge surges in hospitalizations. 
  • That the booster creates a better immune response (which means more protection - yay!) the longer it’s been since someone’s original doses. Plus, any of the very, very rare adverse effects from the vaccine become even rarer the longer it’s been since your last shot. Autumn is around when this sweet spot occurs for most folks, which is the recommended timeframe for getting that next booster this year!

While FDA and CDC have yet to officially recommended additional boosters for higher-risk groups, these additional facts may explain why they may be on the horizon for  those 65+ years of age and the immunocompromised:

  • Older adults are hospitalized at a higher rate than others. Immunity is different for older folks: they are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, and the vaccine’s protective effect wanes more quickly. However, this data comes from the original, monovalent vaccine; CDC is still collecting data on how quickly the bivalent booster wanes among this group. Stay tuned for more updates as this data becomes available, and in the meantime, if you are 65+ and haven’t gotten a bivalent booster yet, make sure you get it soon because the data is clear that having the bivalent booster protects against hospitalization.
  • Folks who are immunocompromised can have a less robust response to the COVID-19 vaccines, meaning they have less immunity when they get vaccinated in addition to having a harder time mounting an immune response overall if they become infected. The protective benefits of the vaccine may also wear off faster in those who are immunocompromised. To top it off, with the current COVID variants, some treatments that had been options for the immunocompromised (like monoclonal antibodies) are no longer effective and available. This puts the immunocompromised in a tough spot, not for the first time since the pandemic started. 

Remember that guidance can change over the coming weeks and months as the scientific community gathers more data on the bivalent boosters people got in the fall of 2022. As always, we recommend reaching out to your doctor about your specific situation, and we’ll be in touch with more info if anything changes!