LOS ANGELES >> New omicron-targeting COVID-19 boosters are now available, but many are wondering: Should they get the shots immediately or wait to time them closer to the holidays?
The short answer is it depends — both on whom you’re asking and what factors might heighten your chance of serious health impacts. For those at lower risk of exposure or developing severe disease, holding off could make sense, say some experts. But others say it’s best not to delay, especially with the potential for another coronavirus rebound this fall and winter.
“We do hear from people who say, ‘You know, I want to maximize my protection for the late fall and the winter holidays in particular. And I might wait.’ For people who are in relatively good health and younger, that may be an appropriate assessment,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
But she urged people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 to get the new booster right away.
“Older people remain at high risk,” she said. “I wouldn’t delay for people who are at high risk.”
Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, said getting the new booster “as soon as eligible seems like a pretty straightforward call to me.”
“While some may choose to wait for cases to begin ticking up later in the fall, ‘timing the market’ usually doesn’t work,” he tweeted.
Whenever you roll up your sleeve, note that it takes two weeks for the full effect of the booster to hit.
Peak effectiveness of the omicron booster will likely be in the four or five months following the shot, with the maximum one month after the injection, according to UC San Francisco infectious diseases expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.
Along with individual risk factors, a person’s plans also may play a role in their booster timing. If someone is about to embark on a trip abroad or head to a big event where there’s an elevated risk of exposure, getting boosted at least two weeks in advance could help reduce the likelihood of infection.
The question of how best to time a vaccine isn’t unique to COVID-19. Take the flu shot, for instance.
Getting the annual shot too early may lead to its peak effectiveness waning before the end of flu season. Get it too late and you risk being exposed without any protection.
In the context of flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “vaccination should ideally be offered during September or October.” Some have suggested that one ideal time to get the flu shot is mid- to late October.
Officials have pointed out that the decision to make the updated COVID-19 booster available in September is expected to reduce hospitalizations and deaths. Modeling studies indicated that distributing boosters starting in September could prevent 137,000 more hospitalizations and 9,700 more deaths compared with beginning a booster campaign in November.
Another wrinkle to consider is when a person was last infected with the coronavirus. The CDC suggests waiting three months after testing positive or the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, whichever came first, before getting the updated booster. But the agency also said other factors could alter that timing, such as the level of COVID-19 in the community and the person’s risk factors for severe disease.
One of the few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to timing is that someone must be at least two months away from their last vaccination or booster dose before getting the updated booster.
Some experts suggest waiting at least three months before getting the new booster for better long-term protection.
Officials say it’s safe to get the COVID-19 booster and the flu shot at the same time, preferably in separate arms.
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