When should you get a a second COVID-19 booster shot? One infectious disease doctor weighs in

If you are starting to feel like everyone around you is getting COVID-19, you may be right.

The BA.5 Omicron variant now driving just over half of all new infections, is the most contagious strain of the virus yet, able to evade some of the protection provided by the vaccines and reinfect people who have already had COVID-19.

But, Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory School of Medicine, sees a silver lining here.

She says the more this coronavirus evolves, the better our bodies are getting at fighting it off.

"Our immune system is really amazing," Dr. Kelley says.  "And, with every vaccine, every booster, every infection we have, it is learning how to deal with this virus."

The big question for many who have been vaccinated and boosted, is whether to get the added protection of a fourth shot now or wait until the fall or winter for a bivalent, or two-strain, booster being developed that could offer better protection against the Omicron variants.

Dr. Kelley says she gets asked about boosters all the time from patients, family and friends, and there is no easy answer.

"That, unfortunately is a very, very individualized decision," Kelley says.  "It depends on when you have had your last dose of the vaccine, if you've had any intervening infections, (because) many of us have gotten COVID-19 recently in the last few months.  And, I think it depends on those things combined with your age and the medical problems you might have."

For some people, Dr. Kelley says,  it may be better not to wait on a fourth dose.

"Right now it's only recommended for people who are over age 50 or have other high risk conditions," she says.  "For many of those folks, if they've not had an intervening COVID-19 infection in recent times, I do encourage them to go ahead and get that fourth shot now.  But, I don't for everyone."

Moderna said Monday it is working on two bivalent boosters, one that targets the BA.1 Omicron variant and another BA.4 and BA.5 strains.

The company says they could be ready by October.

Pfizer is also developing bivalent vaccine candidates that target Omicron variants, hoping to have a new booster ready by this fall or winter.

Still, Dr. Kelley cautions, it is not clear when the new boosters will be authorized, and there is a chance a new strain of the virus could surface between then and now, rendering the newer boosters less effective.

"But, the good news is that we are still very well protected from severe disease, hospitalizations and death from our vaccines and any prior infectious we may have had," she says.