As the new year begins, many people are making resolutions to explore the world again and get out of being hunkered down in their homes for the past nearly two years of the pandemic. But with the Omicron variant raging across the U.S. and the rest of the world, can travel be done safely?
With booster shots readily available for anyone over the age of 12, being fully vaccinated is now more commonly including a booster shot. That means a growing part of the COVID safety conversation in 2022 is how important booster shots are and when to get them.
What is a booster shot?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages 18 and older on Nov. 19, and then authorized them for 16 and 17 year olds on Dec. 9. On Jan. 5, the federal agency approved those boosters for everyone 12 and older. It is important to understand what a booster shot is and how it differs from the full COVID-19 vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot uses the same formulation as the first two shots people received. For those who receive a Moderna booster shot, it is half the dose of the original shots received. People who initially received a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can get a Moderna booster shot and vice versa. People should get these boosters at least six months after receiving the second dose of the initial vaccine. Anyone who received a Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine can get either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech booster, and they should do so at least two months after receiving the initial vaccine.
Why do I need a booster shot?
The initial vaccines are important, but after about five months, they become less potent. The initial effectiveness of the vaccines is about 90 to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, but after several months, that wanes to about 50 or 60%. The booster shot brings people’s immune defenses back up to that 90 to 95% range. That puts them in a place where they can better fight off mild COVID-19–which can lead to long COVID, reduce the chances of severe infections, and reduce the total amount of COVID-19 virus in the community.
Am I still fully vaccinated without a booster shot?
A person is still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their initial second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or after their initial single dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. However, getting a booster shot is an important step in continuing to combat the spread of COVID-19. The booster shots have shown they increase the protection of already-immunized people from severe health outcomes, such as hospitalization and death. It’s also becoming more and more common for “fully vaccinated” to mean “with a booster” at many venues and for travel to many places, so if you plan to attend any events or travel at all, you may want to consider getting your booster now.
Should I get a booster before gathering with friends and family or traveling?
While about 61% of Americans are fully vaccinated, the weekly death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S. is about 1,495 people. Those deaths are largely people who are not vaccinated at all. The safest way to get together with friends and loved ones is to ensure everyone there is fully vaccinated and has been given a booster if they are more than six (or two) months out from that vaccination (depending on which vaccine they received). Wearing masks is also important, and gathering outdoors is safer than gathering indoors. However, if an upcoming gathering has a mixture of people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, those who are only fully vaccinated, and those who are not vaccinated, it is important to wear masks during the gathering and to have people who are not vaccinated test the day before the gathering to ensure they are not infected. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it is important to get tested three to five days after that exposure, regardless of vaccine status, to ensure you are not infected.
For those looking to travel in the new year, being fully vaccinated and boosted, along with wearing an N95 or KN95 mask, is the safest way to travel. It is important to determine how widespread COVID-19 is in the area you plan to visit, what percentage of people are vaccinated, and to avoid gathering indoors during your trip. Vacations to areas that allow for outdoor activities likely have lower inherent risk than places that require indoor activities due to weather or other factors.
Do I need to worry about variants?
News of the Omicron variant has been in the headlines for the past several weeks. Since it was first detected in South Africa, the new variant has been detected essentially worldwide, and, as of Jan. 1, it has been found throughout the U.S. The Omicron variant now makes up about 95% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The best way to fight off the Omicron variant is to be fully vaccinated and boosted according to the time schedule based on which vaccine you received.
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