It's Time To Discuss Vaccine Booster Shots

When will they be available and, more importantly, will you be getting one?

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Late last week, an advisory panel to the FDA announced that it will be recommending a COVID vaccine booster shot for anyone over the age of 65 or in a high-risk category. This comes after the Biden administration’s public promise that booster shots would be available to anyone who received their second shot at least eight months ago, with the program starting on September 20th. The advisory panel voted against the recommendation of a booster shot for anyone over the age of 16 by a 16 - 2 margin while approving booster shots for elderly and high-risk groups by an 18 - 0 vote. 

Oops. 

I’m not surprised by the advisory board’s recommendation  -- I expect the rollout of booster shots to mirror the rollout of the vaccine, with the elderly and high risk getting first dibs, then essential workers, and finally the public at large. The Biden administration got a little ahead of its skis by making a splashy public announcement on booster shots before the FDA weighed in, and seemed to be more interested in calming fears over the Delta variant than anything. There is currently a debate waging over the efficacy of booster shots, data coming out of Israel seems to show a benefit to those over 60 receiving a booster but there is no clear data as of yet showing that those who are younger or in lower-risk categories repairing any benefit. 

Setting aside the medical and political debates over booster shots, I want to highlight a concern that will need to be addressed if any campaign to encourage Americans to get a booster shot is to be effective. I wrote in April of my disappointment in the federal government’s approach to vaccine messaging and, well, things certainly haven’t gotten better on that front. The original pitch for vaccination was that it was the ticket back to “normal life” — being maskless indoors, dining with friends, parties, bar crawls, all of the normal social activities we engaged in pre-pandemic. 

I have been fully vaccinated since May 20th. My life has not returned to normal. I will visit NYC in a few weeks and while the official line is that I don’t have to wear a mask indoors if I can provide proof of vaccination but it is strongly recommended that I do so, in Atlanta the situation is the same. The federal mandate on mask wearing when using public transportation is still in place even for fully vaccinated people, meaning I will have to wear a mask while in the airport and on the plane.  

Luckily, I’ve kept my CDC vaccination card in the same place this whole time so I know where it is.

Me, I will get a booster. Eventually. To be honest, getting a booster shot is not going to be the hair on fire, securing the earliest appointment possible for me as getting my original shots were. Granted my life circumstances have changed since then — I work from home now, so my contact with strangers has diminished greatly. Plus, I lived with someone who contracted COVID (no idea which variant) and did not experience a single symptom. There are conflicting studies on viral load in those who have been vaccinated and what that means for COVID spread but it is indisputable that the vast majority of those being hospitalized for symptoms related to COVID are unvaccinated. Yes, breakout cases exist, but they are typically milder and certainly don’t rise to the level of hospitalization. So sure, I’ll take a booster to further reduce my chances of falling ill, but that’s because I’m a sissy who hates being sick, not because I have a great fear of becoming sick. 

But that’s my decision based on my risk calculus and I get that a lot of people didn’t make their vaccination decision based on risk calculus. They made their decision on the promise of “getting back to normal.” I’m not at all confident that booster shots will change anything as far as mandates, because the same issues that are present now will still exist. How do you prove someone is vaccinated, let alone boostered? In the US, you really can’t, and I don’t see that changing. Plus there will still be a portion of the population that chooses to remain unvaccinated, and the rationale for COVID-related mandates seems to be shifting towards protecting those people. 

My prediction is that the federal government is going to have a really hard time selling the benefits of a booster shot to people who are already mad at having gone through the initial round of vaccination only to be told they must keep living as they did pre-vaccination. There will be a real element of “why bother?” if there is no tangible benefit from either a health or a lifestyle perspective. And while this goes without saying, the federal government has zero goodwill stored up to draw on when launching a vaccine booster campaign. Even if the federal government somehow manages to come up with a winning booster campaign, it can all be undone by state and local governments expanding mandates even to those who have received a booster shot. 

Here is my question for you guys -- once you can get a booster shot, will you? Do you think it is worth it to you personally? What kind of data or assurances would you need to see to make it worthwhile to you? What is your risk calculus? Comment down below, let’s have a discussion. 

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