President Biden releases plan to promote vaccine boosters

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

Vaccine protection wanes after 6 months, boosters are necessary


WASHINGTON — In an effort to curb an increase in COVID-19 cases, President Joe Biden unveiled his plan Thursday to increase COVID-19 vaccine boosters for Americans 18 and older who received their last Pfizer or Moderna shot at least 6 months ago, or their J&J shot at least 2 months ago. Since before Thanksgiving, even before the Omicron variant of the virus was detected in the United States, COVID-19 infection rates have been surging across the country.

That increased number of cases is even showing up in some of the states with the highest levels of vaccinations. Recent studies show that the vaccines’ protection against infection drops after 6 months. So, while vaccinated people still have strong protection against severe disease and death that far removed from their shots, they’re more likely to get infected than they were immediately after vaccination. 

“Americans need to understand that if they were vaccinated before June 1st, then getting a booster is no longer a suggested health precaution, it’s a necessity to keep you as safe as possible from the virus,” said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director. 

More than 120 million Americans received their vaccinations more than 6 months ago, falling into the category that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a booster shot. So far, nearly a quarter of adults who were previously deemed fully vaccinated have received an additional shot. 

“Vaccines have absolutely slowed transmission, even though their primary value to the individual has been through the prevention of severe disease and worse. Having more people boosted means lower community spread, thus protecting those who cannot get vaccinated or have a less robust response to vaccines (the very elderly and immunocompromised); it also protects our health systems from being overwhelmed to the point where non-COVID care is impaired or canceled,” said Dr. Howard Forman, Professor of Public Health, Management and Radiology at Yale University

The waning of the vaccines’ protection against infection is combining with two other factors to spark the rise in infections: many people have abandoned once-common precautions such as masks and limited in-person interactions, and the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has become the dominant strain in the last several months. This more-transmissible variant has been finding and infecting pockets of unvaccinated people, and then spilling over into communities with higher vaccination rates. 

Now, health officials are monitoring Omicron, which the World Health Organization has named a “variant of concern.” So, in addition to getting a booster, people need to remain cautious — masking indoors when around others, at the very least. Testing should also be more accessible and a part of daily life moving forward.

“The Omicron variant may require additional steps, but for now we need to dramatically ramp up boosters, reach the unvaccinated, and act more like we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, because we are,” said Wellington.