Millions of Americans just became eligible for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including seniors.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved (and the Centers for Disease Control recommended) a second booster shot for Americans 50 and older, as well as certain immunocompromised individuals. Second boosters are authorized for eligible individuals four months after their first booster shot. First boosters, in turn, are generally recommended for anyone six months past their initial vaccine sequence.
Only the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are approved for use in boosters, and the CDC recommends anyone who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as their initial sequence get a booster with one of the mRNA vaccines two months after their J&J shot. For those who received a two-dose mRNA vaccine as their initial sequence, this would be their fourth COVID-19 shot overall.
In addition to older adults, the FDA approved the second booster for people who have received an organ transplant or who “are living with conditions that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise.”
According to the Financial Times, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that have authorized a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including Israel, which first gave out the additional shots in late 2021. The FDA specifically cited data from Israel’s rollout in its approval of the additional dose in the U.S. The surveillance data, according to the agency, “revealed no new safety concerns” in more than 700,000 individuals who received a fourth dose, the vast majority of whom were older than 60.
Dr. Peter Marks, MD, PhD, head of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, said in the agency’s statement announcing the approval that the booster dose is needed because the protection from previous doses of the vaccine wears off over time.
“Current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals,” he said. “Additionally, the data show that an initial booster dose is critical in helping to protect all adults from the potentially severe outcomes of COVID-19. So, those who have not received their initial booster dose are strongly encouraged to do so.”
In the CDC’s statement recommending the additional shot, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, MD, said the purpose of the booster is to reduce the risk of severe sickness from COVID-19 in those at a higher risk.
“Boosters are safe, and people over the age of 50 can now get an additional booster four months after their prior dose to increase their protection further,” she said. “This is especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19, as they are the most likely to benefit from receiving an additional booster dose at this time. CDC, in collaboration with FDA and our public health partners, will continue to evaluate the need for additional booster doses for all Americans.”
For seniors who want to get a booster or initial sequence of vaccines, the CDC has set up a website, vaccines.gov, where people can find nearby clinics and sites to receive the shot. There is also a COVID-19 vaccine hotline – 800-232-0233 – to answer questions about receiving the shot.
For homebound seniors with Medicare, at-home vaccination may be available at no cost. Medicare’s guide to COVID-19 vaccines recommends patients contact their primary care provider if they are interested in this option. Additionally, Medicare is warning seniors to watch out for vaccine-related scams, as the vaccine should be provided free of charge. If you have been charged or billed for a vaccination appointment, the guide recommends discussing the charge with your primary care doctor or asking for a refund.
“Be alert for scammers trying to steal your Medicare Number,” reads the guide. “Medicare covers the vaccine at no cost to you, so if anyone asks you for your Medicare Number to get access to the vaccine, you can bet it’s a scam.”
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden received his second booster shot on a live broadcast from the White House grounds, as shared on YouTube by NBC News. The President took questions from reporters while the shot was being administered and quipped that it, “didn’t hurt a bit.” At the same event Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, Biden announced the rollout of a new federal government website, COVID.gov, to help Americans find COVID-19 treatment, testing and information in addition to vaccines.