Baylor health experts recommend boosters due to Omicron, waning vaccine efficacy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Baylor health experts, has recommended COVID-19 booster shots in light of the Omicron variant and waning vaccine efficacy. Joshua McSwain | Roundup

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened its recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots Monday following the designation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 as a variant of concern. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration recently expanded eligibility of boosters to include all individuals 18 and older, and the CDC is now saying everyone “should” get a booster due to the variant.

Boosters are also recommended by health experts because of the waning efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. According to the CDC’s website, individuals who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should wait six months after their second dose to get a booster, and individuals who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should wait two months. Boosters can be any of the three FDA-approved vaccines, meaning an individual does not have to get the same vaccine for the booster as the one they originally received.

Kelly Craine, the public information officer for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, said the best way to protect oneself against COVID-19 and new variants is to get vaccinated and get a booster.

“The vaccine is the key to controlling this pandemic,” Craine said. “It’s our opportunity to be proactive. We don’t have to wait and wonder if the virus is going to hit us. Personally, you get that vaccine, and you know that you are protected. We want to make sure that everyone is fully protected. That means being fully vaccinated, plus that booster. That is right now our strongest recommendation to protect yourself and the people around you.”

Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director of Baylor Health Services, said even though COVID-19 cases are low in McLennan County, the virus is not gone completely. She also said that infections could increase in the coming winter months and that it is only a matter of time before Omicron comes to Waco — both of which were cited as reasons to get a booster.

“We don’t know anything about this new Omicron variant, and it is inevitable that it will come here,” Stern said. “When we get variants of a virus that spreads as easily as this one does, we see it pretty much everywhere, so it’s only a matter of time. In fact, it probably already is somewhere in the United States; we just haven’t diagnosed it yet.”

Stern said side effects such as a sore arm and fatigue could arise from getting a booster, similar to side effects from the original dose of the vaccine. Stern said side effects are not serious and usually clear up in a day or two.

Craine said boosters are available just about everywhere, from pharmacies to grocery stores, and they are also available at the Health District. She said it is important to bring a vaccination card to a vaccine appointment in order to verify which vaccine someone received and confirm that it has been long enough for them to receive a booster.

Stern said Baylor students can schedule an appointment for their booster through the online health portal. The vaccines are given at the North Village Community Center — the same place where students can get flu shots.

Stern said people should trust the science of vaccines.

“Vaccines work,” Stern said. “We know they work. They’ve worked for a really long time. Just in my life, I’ve seen illnesses that were very common become rare because of vaccines. People should trust the science of vaccines and trust the scientists. All of the data, the information and the sophistication of the developing process of making a vaccine has progressed to where it doesn’t take as long to make a vaccine as it used to.”