Are there any downsides?
There aren’t any known downsides to getting another booster, even if you don’t need one, experts say. The vaccines have a solid safety record, and serious side effects are rare.
The risk of myocarditis — one of these uncommon side effects — in the 50-plus age range “is really considered to be minimal,” the FDA’s Marks said. “The side effect profile that was looked at in a million individuals who had received additional doses in Israel looks very favorable in this age range.” That said, you should plan for some possible, albeit temporary, side effects after the shot. Fatigue, fever, headache, muscle pain, chills and nausea are all common symptoms reported after the COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines.
But there also don’t seem to be any benefits to an added boost for people who don’t need one — again, we’re talking about younger individuals who don’t have any health issues — especially when it comes to building the longer-lasting cellular immunity that helps to protect the body from severe disease.
“Individuals will always get an increase in their antibody levels after a booster dose. But how critical that is isn’t clear,” Moss says. “It comes back to: What is really our goal with vaccinations? Is our goal to just try to prevent all infections, which is almost an impossible goal for a vaccine, or is it to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death, which is a much more reasonable goal? And I think we’ve probably reached that in most individuals with three doses.”
The FDA has a meeting April 6 to discuss the future of boosters, including whether more will be needed for a broader swath of the population and how often. Health officials will also discuss what those vaccines might look like. It may be that in the next several months to a year, we have more options for boosters, Moss says, like variant-specific vaccines or nasal vaccines that provide local immunity. Scientists are also working on developing a vaccine that could work against multiple coronaviruses.
It’s also possible, “particularly in otherwise healthy, younger adults, that they may not need an annual booster,” Moss says, though this depends on the course of the pandemic and any variants that may emerge. “Maybe that annual booster is more for the most vulnerable.”
What’s the takeaway?
The key message is to evaluate your risks, and if you have any questions, talk to your doctor.
“Again, the major determinants are age and then your underlying health conditions,” Drews says. “And the more your personal risk is of severe COVID, then the sooner you want to go ahead and get that second booster.”
And don’t forget about other tools that can help to prevent severe illness: High-quality masks can help keep an infection from happening in the first place, and if you do get COVID-19, a menu of treatments can help to prevent the disease from progressing.
“I think the other thing that’s important is, if you haven’t been vaccinated or boosted, you should. Because I’m more concerned about the millions still who have not been vaccinated, or the millions over 65 who have yet to receive their first boost. That, to me, should be a focus,” del Rio says.
Rachel Nania writes about health care and health policy for AARP. Previously, she was a reporter and editor for WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. A recipient of a Gracie Award and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, she also participated in a dementia fellowship with the National Press Foundation.