Do you need a COVID booster? Probably not anymore

In late March, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) met to discuss the use of COVID vaccines to reflect the new realities of the pandemic.

Life has, of course, changed since the early days of the pandemic. There is a reason you have heard less about COVID in the news: rates of illness and hospitalizations are low, assessment centres are closing, immunity is widespread, risk to most healthy adults is relatively low.

Now, SAGE has updated their guidance to reflect these new realities.

For medium and low priority groups, the WHO task force is no longer recommending regular boosters. So, if you are a healthy adult under the age of 60, that means once you’ve had your full schedule of vaccinations, (two shots plus one booster for most mRNA vaccines) you shouldn’t need another one.

“Although additional boosters are safe for this group, SAGE does not routinely recommend them, given the comparatively low public health returns,” the WHO said in a public release.

The thinking here is that these resources would be better spent — from a population health standpoint— on high-priority groups, which are at greater risk of severe disease. In addition to health risk, SAGE’s guidelines also took into account “vaccine performance, cost-effectiveness, programmatic factors and community acceptance.”

This high priority group includes older adults; younger adults with significant comorbidities (e.g. diabetes and heart disease); people with immunocompromising conditions (e.g. people living with HIV and transplant recipients), including children aged 6 months and older; pregnant persons; and frontline health workers.

For these people, SAGE recommends an additional booster every six to 12 months following their last dose “depending on factors such as age and immunocompromising conditions.”

It’s important to note, however, that this guidance is time-limited, meaning it applies only in the current epidemiological situation. A new immunity-evading variant, new rates of community transmission, or some other unforeseen change may lead to a change in guidance. It’s ultimately up to individual countries to determine how to shape their own guidelines given the WHO’s advice.

If you’re unsure where you stand, talk to your doctor.

Have more pandemic-related questions? Check out our previous blogs:

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