On Wednesday, October 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approved a third booster dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. People who received their second dose more than six months ago and who are either older than 65 years old or are at increased risk due to an underlying condition or their work environment are now eligible to get a booster. This decision comes roughly a month after the Pfizer booster dose was approved and at the same time as the Johnson & Johnson booster was approved, meaning that all US adults who qualify can now get their booster dose.
While the ACIP concluded that the Moderna vaccine’s efficacy dropped enough over time to warrant a third dose, one CDC study provided some encouraging news about its protection. The study found that Moderna’s efficacy remained above 90 percent in preventing hospitalizations after four months, although the amount of breakthrough asymptomatic and minorly-symptomatic cases did increase over time. The booster was approved so that those who may be more exposed to COVID-19 or those with weaker immune systems can avoid cases that would have proven more dangerous for them.
Under the new CDC guidelines, one work environment that makes adults booster-eligible is that of being a teacher. CA science teacher Max Hall, on getting the booster, said, “I was psyched to get it. I am very thankful for any increment in protection, and the decrease in risk it means for people around me.” Since Massachusetts opened initial vaccine eligibility to K-12 teachers on March 11, those who took advantage early on are already able to receive their third dose.
On the student side, people will be waiting a while longer for their booster. Moderna is only approved for adults over 18 years old, meaning that virtually no current students received that vaccine, and Pfizer has not yet released data on booster efficacy for anyone under 18; that step usually comes long before a booster would be approved. Assuming the CDC will require the same six-month wait for Pfizer as Moderna, even if a Pfizer booster is approved for children and teenagers soon, none of those groups will be able to get theirs until at least December, given that the Pfizer initial series for 12-to-16 year olds was only approved in May.
All in all, the CDC’s approval of Moderna’s booster dose is a crucial step in getting rid of the last of the COVID-19 restrictions. According to data presented by the CIP, the booster provides longer-term protection and also prevents minorly-symptomatic cases. As boosters more thoroughly protect higher-risk individuals, the country may soon be able to drop some of the final remaining restrictions and precautionary measures surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.