COVID is on the rise in South Florida. Should I get a booster shot now or wait? – Sun Sentinel

New cases of COVID-19 in Florida are on the rise and an increase is anticipated in the summer in the South.

After a pause in March and April, a highly infectious subvariant of omicron has caused a spike in cases.

Florida health officials reported 32,981 new cases last week, a level the state hasn’t seen since the winter surge in omicrons. That doesn’t include people who tested positive on home tests and didn’t report the results to the state Department of Health.

A more targeted COVID booster to counter the effects of omicron and its sub-variants is expected to be ready in the fall, with many wondering whether to get another shot now or wait. The South Florida Sun Sentinel turned to experts for guidance.

The answer is, it depends. You will need to do your own risk-benefit analysis.

You are eligible for a second booster (fourth dose) if you are age 50 or older and received your initial booster at least four months ago. If you are younger and have a weakened immune system, you are also eligible.

You are eligible for an initial booster (third dose) from Moderna if you are 18 years of age or older and Pfizer if you are 12 years of age or older and completed your initial series at least five months ago. People vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson are eligible for a booster dose two months after their first injection.

About 5.4 million people have received a first or second booster in Florida, representing only about a third of those vaccinated.

Dr. Paul Goepfert, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama, says getting your first booster should be an easy decision: People who get three doses of an mRNA vaccine have a relatively low rate of visits of COVID-related urgent care and hospitalizations compared to those who received just two doses, studies have shown.

Scientists and doctors are divided on how much benefit you get from a fourth dose.

So far, research from Israel shows that people over the age of 50 benefit from a fourth injection, but not as much as they do from a third injection. Studies also show that mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) provide protection against serious illness with omicron, but not against infection.

Here are the factors to consider:

  • Getting a booster now might make your symptoms milder if you get COVID during the summer months, but it will not protect you from getting COVID. In general, those who have not been recently boosted report symptoms such as extreme fatigue, body aches, and upper respiratory illness.
  • Vaccines, and boosters, still hold up well against preventing serious illness, and a fourth shot significantly reduced deaths in Israel’s older population during the omicron wave.
  • It is not known how long neutralizing antibodies last after a second booster, but an Israeli study found that protection against symptomatic infection decreased after five weeks, but protection against severe COVID-19 did not.
  • The immune system tends to weaken as you age, which is why scientists believe that even a small increase in protection could make a big difference for older people and high-risk groups.
  • Experts say the risks of overeating are small.

“I think we’re getting into an area of ​​looking at our individual risk-taking behaviors,” Goepfert said. “People who are at risk and want to maximize the effectiveness of their vaccine should get a fourth injection, but they should know that they will only get minimal benefit.”

If you want to go without a mask most of the time, attend crowded concerts or sporting events, and travel to areas with high levels of transmission, then a booster could help you avoid getting seriously ill from COVID.

Goepfert said that, at some point, people will no longer benefit from the reinforcements.

“We can’t just keep pushing every time we have a new raise. There has to be some kind of limited benefit to doing this,” she said. But for now, he thinks the risk of getting a fourth booster shot is a slim possibility. “Unless you have significant side effects, if you’re really thinking about it, you want to go ahead and do it because it will provide some level of protection.”

An omicron-specific booster is likely to be available in the fall. Moderna and Pfizer are studying a redesigned booster, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said publicly that his company’s could be ready by the fall.

So while you might wait a few months to see what more omicron-specific vaccines become available, if you want to travel or attend big events and have stopped wearing masks in public places, you’re taking a risk.

Other factors to consider: your own health status, the level of transmission in your community, and the potential risks you may be exposed to.

“If you’re eligible, you shouldn’t wait,” says Dr. Jennifer Goldman, a family physician and chief of primary care at Memorial. “We don’t know, #1, when or if a custom booster injection would come, and #2, we know that both Pfizer and Moderna have really good rates of fighting or preventing all serious omicron infections and that’s the variant. that we’re dealing with right now.”

By waiting, Goldman says, you risk getting sick and possibly seriously ill. “I just don’t recommend taking that risk when we have safe and effective vaccines available.”

No one knows exactly which strain of COVID affected them, but if you live in Florida and had COVID after the end of December, chances are you were infected with omicron.

Goldman says that if you had COVID more than five months ago, you should get a booster.

“We know that if you have been infected, then you have some antibodies. But we also know that getting another shot will do a better job of giving you a higher level of antibodies and for a longer period of time,” he said.

There are new ways to fight COVID once you have it.

Therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals reduce the chance of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and deaths. With both, treatment must be started early for it to work. Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, is most widely available at pharmacies and urgent care centers.

“You have to decide what risk you’re willing to take,” said Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami. “In the absence of clinical studies, you risk thinking that if I have COVID, I will be fine with therapy. The drug can clear your virus within the first five days, but what if the complications that we’re seeing with long-standing COVID occur? This is not a simple disease. It is still the same virus that caused big problems.”

Goldman said that Paxlovid has been shown to be good at preventing COVID hospitalization, but it will not eliminate several days of fever and body aches that COVID might have. Also, he said, Paxlovid has side effects and there is a long list of drugs Paxlovid can interact with.

“Mixing vaccines is absolutely fine,” Goldman said.

“Modern’s vaccine may be slightly more effective than Pfizer’s vaccine in terms of raising antibodies and preventing severe cases of COVID, but we know that both are extremely effective,” Goldman said. “My first recommendation to my patients is that they get vaccinated and if they haven’t, get a booster shot, and if they’re eligible for the second one, get the second one no matter what vaccine they may get.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has announced new restrictions on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines citing concerns about rare blood clots. The agency is encouraging people who bought Johnson and Johnson to get a booster from Moderna or Pfizer.

Health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at

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