Sep 30, 2021 - COVID
Don't panic if you're not eligible for a COVID vaccine booster
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Millions of people in the U.S. are still not eligible for a booster and reaching the half year mark on their original vaccines, when some studies show a drop in protection.

Driving the news: Last week, the FDA announced that people who got the Pfizer vaccine can receive a COVID-19 booster shot if they're over 65, have an underlying medical condition, or live or work in high risk settings.

Why it matters: It leaves ineligible folks wondering how they should modify their behavior.

The answer: You should still mask up indoors if strangers are close, but most vaccinated people who can't get a booster can chill out, according to experts we interviewed.

What they're saying: "Your protection is still really amazing against hospitalization and serious illness from COVID," Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at University of Chicago Medicine, tells Axios. "In fact, vaccinated people are still really unlikely to pick up regular COVID, especially as cases are coming down locally."

By the numbers: In the past week, all major COVID-19 indicators in Chicago are down from the prior week. Cases dropped 19% and hospitalizations are down 17%.

Yes, but: The big exception is people who live with unvaccinated kids, elderly folks or otherwise medically vulnerable people. They still need to be careful about unmasking in any public setting.

And what about that autumn vacation?

  • "That's a personal decision," Landon says. "But I certainly don't think that [vaccinated people] need to cancel their trips. The latest numbers … say the likelihood of getting COVID for a vaccinated person is about one in 5,000."
  • The real risk is "the small chance that you'd test positive before you get back on the plane, delaying your return," says Elizabeth McNally, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University.

State of play: Right now, vulnerable groups can get a booster six months after their last vaccine. But not everyone is convinced that the rest of the population needs them, and it's unclear if the Biden administration will expand eligibility.

  • "I suspect the evidence is going to suggest [administering them] something like once a year," Landon says.

The bottom line: "Those of us who are young ... and don't have any underlying problems should probably continue with the same [safety measures]," she says. "But generally we can go on with life as usual. … We won't be 100% protected. But if we do happen to get it, it's likely to be a mild case."

  • And, she notes, it could even boost our immunity.
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