bin March, people over 50 and younger people with weakened immune systems are eligible to receive second booster shot. If you recently received your second booster, can you still receive the new Omicron-specific booster that health officials expect in September or October?
The answer is yes. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered this very scenario in the spring before authorizing a second booster for this group, knowing that Omicron-specific boosters were likely to come. They decided that taking a second booster wouldn’t prevent people from also getting an Omicron booster if and when it was allowed.
That’s because boosters are an important way to boost waning immunity, and more studies show that the initial surge of virus-fighting antibodies that vaccines produce can wane over time. Topping up these levels with a booster shot is critical to keeping vulnerable people from getting seriously ill with COVID-19, and that’s what vaccines do – keep people out of hospital and dying from the disease. Getting a second booster strengthens this protection, and when those antibody levels inevitably drop again, people will be eligible for the new Omicron-specific booster. It’s not a matter of getting one or the other, but getting both when the time comes.
If you qualify for one, it’s a good idea to get a second booster as soon as possible. “The threat to you [from BA.5] is now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, in a July press briefing. If you’re not up-to-date, meaning you haven’t received booster shots as recommended, you’re at increased risk.” Cases and deaths are still relatively high nationwide; BA.5 is more portable than previous variants, and although vaccines won’t protect you from getting infected in the first place, they will provide some protection against hospitalization and severe COVID-19.
The booster doses the FDA is now reviewing — made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are different than what people have received before. They are bivalent vaccines, meaning they target two strains of the virus: the original SARS-CoV-2 strain that previous vaccines targeted, as well as the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants that now account for nearly all new infections in the US. Recent data shows that even people who are vaccinated and boosted with the original strain are still susceptible to developing mild to moderate COVID-19 from the Omicron variants, so experts hope the new booster vaccine will protect better people from getting sick from these circulating Omicron viruses.
FDA and CDC officials have not yet decided who will qualify for Omicron boosters (although Pfizer-BioNTech recently requested permission for their photos for all Americans 12 and older and Modern has submitted its application for adults aged 18 and over), when they will be available and how long after a previous dose people have to wait before receiving it. The CDC’s Vaccine Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on September 1 and 2 and may issue more guidance then.
More must-see stories from TIME