Should I get a COVID booster now or wait until fall?

COVID Variants Infectious Diseases Vaccines

“I’m over 65 but otherwise healthy. When I went for my annual check up my doctor said that while a summer booster was being recommended, she thought waiting until fall was fine. So I’m confused about whether or not to get a summer dose.” -Kit from Columbus, OH

For those over age 65, a “summer booster” could make sense, especially if you have upcoming travel or events. You can still get the updated version later in the fall to maximize holiday protection. But waiting is also a reasonable choice.

As summer progresses, we are getting lots of versions of Kit’s question, especially with signs that COVID-19 activity is on the rise. The U.S. CDC recently recommended that everyone ages 6 months and older receive an updated 2024-2025 COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 this fall and winter. The updated vaccines will target the KP.2 variant (where possible), which is currently among the most commonly circulating variants nicknamed “FLiRT” after the technical names for their mutations. The updated shots are expected to be available by late August or early September.

With the updated vaccines still a couple months away, is a “summer booster” worth it? Like most things COVID these days, the choices are not clear cut. Since COVID-19 has not fallen neatly into a seasonal pattern (except for ALL SEASONS), optimizing the timing of protection is harder than a more predictable seasonal virus like the flu.

In the US, you are currently eligible for a dose of COVID-19 vaccine if:
1) You never received the most recent (fall 2023) COVID vaccine OR
2) You are over age 65 or immunocompromised and received your last COVID shot more than four months ago.

The value of a “summer booster” depends on your overall COVID risk and what you have coming up over the next few months. Increasing age (especially >65 years) is still the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19, regardless of underlying conditions. The updated vaccines reduce the risk of COVID hospitalization and death, but protection is highest in the first few months, so staying up-to-date is most critical for this age group. If you are 65 or over (or immunocompromised), one option is to get a dose now and then get the updated vaccine in 3-4 months, before the usual uptick around the holidays.

This strategy could also make sense if you have upcoming travel or special events like weddings where your risk of exposure is higher than normal. The current XBB-targeted vaccine will still give a sizable boost in immunity to the new variants, especially in the near term. This Nerdy Girl got a dose in early May prior to lots of travel (including a Taylor Swift concert 🤩) and plans to get the updated version a couple weeks before Thanksgiving to have peak protection during the holidays.

It’s also reasonable to wait for the updated shot if you’ve already had one dose in the last year and don’t anticipate higher than expected exposures. If you also had a COVID infection in the past year, your protection may stretch out a bit longer. Besides vaccines, don’t forget our other trusty tools to minimize risk of infections before special events (and in general) such as strategic masking and minding ventilation.

As we get further into this “limbo” phase approaching the updated vaccines, there is no strictly right or wrong answer. The most important thing will be to get an updated COVID vaccine this fall, whether that is early or late in the season!

Those Nerdy Girls

Link to Original Substack Post