A fourth COVID vaccine shot: Will it be necessary?

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Will U.S. residents need a fourth shot of a COVID-19 vaccine? 

With a surge of the omicron variant of the coronavirus subsiding around the country, questions continue to swirl about the future of the pandemic in the United States. 

While cases and hospitalizations are down, deaths remain high, exceeding past pandemic peaks. 

White House and public health leaders have said that they are cautiously optimistic about current trends and planning for a return to normal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently considering revising its guidance on masking.

To date, data from the agency shows 92.6 million Americans have received a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 214.6 million are fully vaccinated. 

While the Biden administration has called on the U.S. to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, health experts continue to worry about impending variants of concern and that booster rates are too low given that the vaccination’s efficacy wanes over time – about after four months. 

Children 12-15 years old receive a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on January 6, 2022. 
(JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

The CDC says COVID-19 vaccine booster shots provide 90% protection against hospitalization.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told PBS last week that while there is “substantial waning” for symptomatically recognizable disease, for severe disease at four to five months there is still about a 78% overall protection rate against hospitalization.

He said that number is “pretty good,” which is why the CDC is instructing those who are immune-comprised to get their fourth shot now – but that those who are in the general population of immunocompetent people are “pretty good” as the CDC works to follow the durability of that protection. 

“If it goes down over the next couple of months, then they will modify the recommendation of when and who should get now the fourth shot. But, in general, for the population level, 78% is pretty good. It likely will go down sometime. We don’t know for sure. We’re hoping it’ll hold tight up there,” he said. “But, if it does go down, I think you can expect some modification of the recommendation.”

Currently, the CDC recommends booster shots for everyone 12 years and older, five months after getting two doses of the mRNA vaccines or two months after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vaccines remain the best way to protect against COVID-19 and everyone five years and older is now eligible to receive a vaccine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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