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Why does the CDC recommend a booster 8 months after the second shot?

Studies show immunity can drop six months after the second dose.

WASHINGTON — By now, you’ve heard COVID-19 booster shots are on the way. 

Federal health officials recommended that people who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should get a booster shot eight months after their second dose. 

It’s all about keeping that protection as high as possible. The best thing to protect you from the virus is the vaccine. But, medical experts have started to notice that protection starts to weaken after six months.

THE QUESTION

Why is the federal government recommending booster shots after eight months?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Vaccine protection appears to drop, a little, after six months. Experts believe that eight months could be a good way to stay ahead of more protection drops.

WHAT WE FOUND

Throughout the pandemic, health officials have monitored the level of protection the vaccines offer.

“Data we've seen from our international colleagues, specifically, Israel [has] demonstrated a worsening of infections amongst vaccinated people over time,” Dr. Walensky said.

However, the studies health officials cited showed that the number of breakthrough infections did not increase over time near the level it does for unvaccinated people. Still, health officials believe booster shots would offer more protection over time. 

When asked why eight months was chosen as the wait time for an additional dose, Surgeon General Dr. Murthy said it's based on reports of waning immunity against infections.

“We did see that around the six-month mark in the data, you start to see increases in mild to moderate infection,” Dr. Murthy said. "If the trajectory that we are seeing continues, we will likely see in the future a increase in breakthrough hospitalizations and breakthrough deaths."

Dr. Murthy noted, though, that eight months is not a "magic number." It's an estimate that several top health experts landed on after pouring through data that is currently available.

According to the experts, protection against hospitalizations and deaths doesn’t fall off at six months or even eight months. But, Dr. Fauci explained the goal from here on out in the pandemic is to stay ahead of the virus.

“If you wait for something bad to happen before you respond to it, you find yourselves you're considerably behind your real full capability of being responsive,” Dr. Fauci said.

Although the CDC has made the recommendation for booster shots, the FDA has still not approved a third dose for either Pfizer or Moderna. Experts expect them to make that announcement sometime soon.

Right now, the recommendation does not apply to Johnson and Johnson vaccine recipients. Health experts are still gathering data to make a recommendation on that vaccine in the future.

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