Atlanta - When it comes to who should get a COVID-19 booster shot, microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., the Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, says the list is long and a little complicated.
"I think that's confused a lot of people," Schmidtke says. "There are so many loopholes in the guidance, that really anyone over the age of 18 can probably justify getting the booster."
Under the current guidelines, those who originally received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine qualify for a booster after six months if they are 65 and older or have at least one of more than a dozen health conditions that might raise their risk of severe illness, such high blood pressure, a body mass index of 25 or greater, kidney, heart or lung disease or diabetes.
People with depression or other mental illnesses also qualify for an extra dose, as do current and former smokers.
Same if you live or work in a high-exposure setting.
And all adults two months out from the Johnson & Johnson can get a booster.
"What California and Colorado and other states have done has really been to just eliminate some of that confusion and just announce that anyone over the age of 18 can get the booster," Schmidtke says.
U.S. health officials say the three authorized vaccines still protect well against severe COVID-19, but their effectiveness against milder disease has been decreasing over time.
Arkansas, Colorado, California and New Mexico are widening access to boosters as cases numbers are increasing, especially in the middle of the country.
"I think we're already starting to see some hospitals starting to get overwhelmed, especially in places like Minnesota, but we're seeing it in Colorado as well," Schmidtke says.
Georgia, which was hit early in the summer surge, has been seeing a steady decrease in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Still, Schmidtke says, as the weather cools and people move indoors, that drop in cases seems to have leveled off over the last week.
"So the concern that I have is that we have leveled off at a very high level," she says. "When when that's happened in the past, that has led to even bigger surges than the one that preceded it. So that's what we're trying to avoid, is just to remind people the pandemic is not over, even though things are in a much better place."
The CDC says 30.7 million Americans have received a booster.
Half of eligible Georgians are now fully vaccinated, compared to about 58% of eligible Americans.