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Should you get the new booster?

Snitz offers no opinion on this. Clearly, the folks dying of COVID are the older crowd. Has Pfizer and Moderna come clean about the side effects? Hard to say, depends on how trusting you are of big pharma. Since Pfizer has won the prize as the most fined company in US history for fraud (yep) with fines totaling over $6 billion to date...I'm not that trusting.

I'm vaccinated, boosted and considering the facts at present for getting another shot.

Who should get a Covid booster, and when? We answer the big questions.

By David Leonhardt, NY Times

About 40,000 Americans died of Covid this summer. That toll means that Covid is continuing to kill many more people each day than vehicle crashes, gun violence, the flu or many other health threats.

The situation is especially tragic because most of these Covid deaths could have been prevented — if only more Americans had received vaccine shots, including booster shots for older people and others with vulnerable health.

Consider this data from King County, Wash., which includes Seattle and publishes some of the most detailed, up-to-date Covid statistics in the country:

Chart shows the 30-day average from Aug. 22 to Sept. 21, 2022, in King County, Wash. | Source: Washington State Department of Health

(The King County data is more current than the publicly available data from other places, but all of the numbers — from King County, other localities and the C.D.C. — are broadly similar.)

As you can see, Covid is killing almost nobody under 50 and is hospitalizing very few people. The death and hospitalization rates also remain low among older people who are boosted. And in all of these groups, severe Covid illness is concentrated among people who have significant underlying medical problems.

The main reason so many Americans are still dying from Covid is that vaccination and booster rates are not higher. Only about half of adults have received a booster shot, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s most recent poll. More than 20 percent have not received any vaccine shot.

I know that there is still a lot of confusion about booster shots — including about the new version, known as a bivalent booster. Today’s newsletter will offer answers to some common questions.

Do boosters matter?

Yes, boosters matter, as the charts above show. The biggest benefit is a reduction in severe illness among vulnerable people, as Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. For that reason, anybody over 50 who has not yet received a booster shot in 2022 should consider getting one as soon as possible.

(One exception: If you recently had Covid, you should wait several months before getting a booster, as my colleague Dani Blum explains.)

The most effective way to reduce Covid deaths, however, does not involve boosters. It involves persuading more unvaccinated Americans to get their first shot. Their risks are far higher than the risks facing the unboosted. Unfortunately, public health officials acknowledge that they don’t know how to increase that number very much. About four-fifths of the unvaccinated — a group that is disproportionately Republican — say they will “definitely not” get a shot, according to Kaiser.

Covid remains so deadly largely because millions of Americans have decided they would rather accept its risks than receive a vaccine shot.

Do younger people need one?

Whether to get a booster shot is a closer call for healthy people under 50, many experts believe. Rates of severe Covid are already so low among this group that booster shots don’t seem to have a huge health benefit. Of course, the downsides of the shots also seem to be small, because research has consistently shown them to be safe.

But getting a booster shot is not wholly without downsides. Some people are fearful of needles or prefer to avoid taking unnecessary medicines. Other people were sick for a day or two after getting an earlier Covid shot and would prefer not to repeat the experience. For hourly workers and single parents, a day in bed can also bring financial or logistical burdens, especially in a country without guaranteed sick leave or child care.

For these reasons, many experts stop short of telling younger adults and children that they need to be boosted. “I’m not in the camp of saying if you’re under 50, you have to do it,” Andy Slavitt, a former Covid adviser to President Biden and former head of Medicare and Medicaid, told me. “Reasonable people could come out on different sides of it.” Similarly, Dr. Paul Sax, a leader of the infectious-disease division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said, “I don’t think it’s as clear for young healthy people as for older people to get the booster.”

Still, if you’re a booster skeptic, I would encourage you to keep in mind that many of these same experts — including Sax and Slavitt — are encouraging the younger adults in their own families to get booster shots.

Why? For one thing, the data suggests that a booster reduces a person’s chances of being infected with Covid, at least for a few months, and even a moderate Covid infection can keep somebody in bed for days. It can sometimes lead to longer-term symptoms, too. Perhaps most important, a younger person could infect an older person for whom Covid might be more severe.

“You’re doing it for your family and your friends,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid coordinator, told The Washington Post. The Biden administration has recently changed its guidance to recommend that all eligible people 12 and above receive a booster shot with one of the updated vaccines. Jha recently said that he expected a Covid shot to become an annual ritual, like a flu shot.

In some cases, it may make sense for younger, healthy people to schedule their next Covid shot to line up with their risk of exposure to the virus, including the chance that they would infect a more vulnerable person. Nuzzo — who’s under 50, without underlying health conditions — told me that she was waiting to get her next booster until shortly before the holidays. “I do appreciate the temporary added benefit against infection and want to time that protection to correspond to when I am most likely to be exposed to Covid,” she said.

I’m 49 and got my second booster — a bivalent booster, this time — a few weeks ago. I did not want to enter the colder fall weather without updated protection. But I understand why others, especially younger people, may decide to wait.

What about new boosters?

Pfizer and Moderna began offering bivalent booster shots in September, designed to combat Omicron subvariants of the Covid virus. Tests in animals have suggested that the shots will do a better job preventing infections than earlier vaccine shots.

So far, the real-world evidence is unclear. “The truth is,” Slavitt says, “we don’t know.” The situation will become clearer once the C.D.C. releases more data in coming weeks.

But most people don’t need to worry too much about these fine differences. The new boosters, like the earlier versions, are likely to be extremely effective at preventing severe illness, scientists say. For people who are more vulnerable to severe Covid, either because of age or a health condition, the best advice has not changed: Stay up-to-date on your Covid boosters.

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