These recommendations have been widened because of the continued emergence of new variants of the virus and the wane of protection over time for both vaccinations and previous disease.
The new recommendations take away some of the questions surrounding eligibility for booster vaccinations while potentially leaving some additional questions. All in all, they provide flexibility for individuals to help protect themselves against the COVID-19 virus, as many are considering celebrating the holidays with friends and family.
The first item that has become clear is that all individuals over 18 are now not only eligible for a booster vaccination a certain time after they have completed their series, but have a recommendation for one.1
But what about a fourth dose? There is a possibility that some patients should be receiving one. For those who require a three-dose series due to a condition that makes them immunocompromised, they should receive their booster vaccination six months after completion of the three-dose series. This distinction may cause confusion for some, but is important for those immunocompromised.
Boosters in women who are pregnant
The recommendations also include specific comments about individuals who are pregnant. Although initial studies did not include pregnant individuals, there has been increasing real world data that vaccination against COVID, including booster vaccinations, is safe and recommended. As pregnancy increases the risk of severe disease if infected by COVID-19, both the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,2 along with other specialty organizations, such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, recommend vaccinations for pregnant individuals.
The CDC goes on to describe that there is no evidence of vaccination increasing the risk of infertility. The vaccine protects the pregnant individual and also provides protection to the baby once born. The same is true of breastfeeding individuals.3
I hope that this information allows physicians to feel comfortable recommending vaccinations and boosters to those who are pregnant and breast feeding.
Expanded recommendations for those aged 16-17 years
Recently, the CDC also expanded booster recommendations to include those aged 16-17 years, 6 months after completing their vaccine series.
Those under 18 are currently only able to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. This new guidance has left some parents wondering if there will also be approval for booster vaccinations soon for those aged 12-16 who are approaching or have reached six months past the initial vaccine.1
Booster brand for those over 18 years?
Although the recommendation has been simplified for all over age 18 years, there is still a decision to be made about which vaccine to use as the booster.
The recommendations allow individuals to decide which brand of vaccine they would like to have as a booster. They may choose to be vaccinated with the same vaccine they originally received or with a different vaccine. This vaccine flexibility may cause confusion, but ultimately is a good thing as it allows individuals to receive whatever vaccine is available and most convenient. This also allows individuals who have been vaccinated outside of the United States by a different brand of vaccine to also receive a booster vaccination with one of the options available here.
Take home message
Overall, the expansion of booster recommendations will help everyone avoid severe disease from COVID-19 infections. Physicians now have more clarity on who should be receiving these vaccines. Along with testing, masking, and appropriate distancing, these recommendations should help prevent severe disease and death from COVID-19.
Dr. Wheat is a family physician at Erie Family Health Center in Chicago. She is program director of Northwestern’s McGaw Family Medicine residency program, also in Chicago. Dr. Wheat serves on the editorial advisory board of Family Practice News. You can contact her at email@example.com.
1. COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 Dec 9.
2. COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy: Conversation Guide. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2021 November.
3. COVID-19 Vaccines While Pregnant or Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 Dec 6.