What Should I Know About COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters?

Dr. Paul Offit discusses COVID-19 booster recommendations and who will benefit most from receiving a booster dose.


What should I know about COVID-19 vaccine boosters?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It is January the 13th, 2022. One of the most frequent questions that we're being asked these days is about booster dosing. So, for example, on August 18th of this past year, President Biden said that as of September 20th, we would have booster dosing available for everyone over 16 years of age. And over the few months that followed that, the CDC eventually ended up recommending booster doses for everyone over 12 years of age. Now that may change over the next few weeks or months to include booster dosing for those between 5 and 11 years of age. But as of today, January 13th, 2022, booster dosing is recommended for all those over 12 years of age.

So, does that make sense?

Here's what I would say. The question is, what do we want from this vaccine? What did we want from vaccines that prevent COVID-19? The most important thing is that you're protected against serious illness, meaning the kind of illness that causes you to seek a doctor's attention or go to the hospital or go to the intensive care unit. All of these vaccines do that. The Moderna vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, the J&J vaccine, all provide excellent protection against serious disease with, in the case of the mRNA vaccines, it’s two doses, and in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now is recommended as a two-dose product. So that is fulfilled.

Now, what the booster dose provides for healthy young people is an additional three months of protection against mild disease. Where booster dosing is recommended because it's clear I think at this point that people would benefit from a booster dose are those people who are over 65 years of age, those people who live in long-term care facilities, and then people who have a variety of comorbidities, and usually it's more than one comorbidity, so for example, obesity, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease. Also, anyone who is immune suppressed should receive a third dose as, frankly, as part of their primary series.

So, I think that the question that people can reasonably ask is if I have a healthy young child, do they need a booster dose? And what I would say is where that benefits them is it provides protection against mild illness for about a three-month period. But remember these viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 viruses, whatever variant you're talking about, are invariably winter viruses. So, we're starting to come, I think, to the end of the winter, and if that's true, as we move into early spring and summer, then protection against mild illness becomes less important because the virus is circulating to a much lesser extent.

I hope that helps.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jan 20, 2022