Most should wait for updated COVID booster shot to maximize protection: Experts

"It's hard to thread the needle perfectly when it comes to timing of boosters."

August 22, 2023, 2:54 PM

Despite the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the past month, experts said most people should wait for the updated boosters to be released before getting another shot.

"If you're in a low-risk category and don't have consistent interaction with high-risk family or friends, waiting for the updated booster may be the right call," Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and ABC News Medical Contributor, told ABC News. "It is a highly individualized decision and unfortunately there isn't perfect data on this."

The updated booster is expected to be available mid-to-late September and is targeted to protect against newer variants, health officials said.

"It's hard to thread the needle perfectly when it comes to the timing of boosters. This has always been a challenge and given how difficult it is to predict the future, it's really hard to predict timing and optimize protection," Brownstein said.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration requested vaccine manufacturers develop COVID boosters against an omicron subvariant known as XBB.1.5, following evidence provided by vaccine manufactures.

At the time, it made up an estimated 40% of new COVID cases in the nation.

A vial of coronavirus vaccine on a vaccination record card with a syringe on the side
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Now, there are newer variants emerging such as EG.5 and BA.2.86. The latter was recently labeled as a "variant under monitoring" by the World Health Organization following concerns among some infectious disease experts due to its many mutations.

The updated booster expected for the fall season showed a significant boost in antibodies against some of these currently circulating variants, vaccine manufacturers have told ABC News.

"Reasonably at this point, if you're not high risk and do not have high exposures, waiting a few weeks to get the updated shot should be okay," Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the pandemic center at Brown University School of Public Health, told ABC news.

There may be specific situations where you may want to play it safe, however, and get a booster shot now.

"If you think you're going to have considerable exposures, between then and now, some boosting is better," Nuzzo said. "The best time to get vaccinated is before you get infected."

Last year's so-called tripledemic resulted in hundreds of thousands of patients hospitalized with COVID, flu, and RSV, prompting concern among state health officials about this year's upcoming season.

"We're in uncharted territory. We don't really know what this season is going to look like and it's going to look different in different areas of the country," Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, told ABC News during a press conference on Aug. 9.

Last year's bivalent booster uptake was lower than previous COVID vaccines with only 17% of the total U.S. population receiving a dose, leaving some at-risk individuals more at risk.

Flu shots will also become more widely available in the coming weeks, with experts saying it is safe and effective to receive both the COVID and flu vaccines in the same visit.

Brownstein said if you feel uncertain about how to proceed regarding your vaccination status, you can always reach out to your health care provider.

"Talking to your doctor should help address any questions you might have and help determine the best way to move forward for you and your specific situation," Brownstein said.

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