The Perfect Enemy | COVID boosters: Infectious disease specialist touts benefits
October 4, 2022

COVID boosters: Infectious disease specialist touts benefits

COVID boosters: Infectious disease specialist touts benefits  Knoxville News SentinelView Full Coverage on Google News

Read Time:7 Minute

One of Knoxville’s top infectious disease specialists has some simple advice: No matter what your COVID-19 vaccination status, get the updated booster shot. 

It could protect you from severe illness and the unknowns of long COVID-19.  

The first omicron-specific COVID-19 booster shots are now available at Walgreens, CVS and other local pharmacies. It’s recommended to call or check online to confirm booster availability and if an appointment is needed. 

Knox County Health department expects to have the Moderna and Pfizer boosters available as early as next week. Appointments are available by calling 865-215-5555. 

Related:CDC recommends reformulated Pfizer, Moderna COVID boosters for all Americans over 12

Previously:BA.5 makes up nearly 80% of new COVID-19 cases. Here’s what to know about the subvariant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending boosters from Pfizer for ages 12 years and older, and Moderna for people ages 18 years and older.

These newly approved shots are bivalent, meaning they target the omicron variant and the original COVID-19 strain. You must have had the initial vaccination series to get the booster. is also an easy source to find vaccines available near you.

Covenant Health infectious disease specialist Dr. John S. Adams talked to Knox News about the boosters and who should get them. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. John S. Adams

Who should get the updated COVID booster?

The current recommendation from the CDC — and that’s been backed up by other organizations as well — is anybody over age 18 really should get updated. The new (booster) has the original coronavirus and the omicron-specific strains and, beyond that, omicron types that are geared to the subtypes of omicron that are currently circulating.

And certainly, persons who are immunocompromised and (those) undergoing cancer chemotherapy, or are on very high doses of steroids for various conditions, or the very elderly, definitely need to get boosted.

Should older kids still get the COVID booster?

(For ages 12 to 17) you’re still recommended to get a booster, an updated booster if you got Pfizer as a primary vaccine and you’ve not gotten the new booster, then you should get the new booster.

Even if you got Moderna to start off with, you’re going to get Pfizer now. If you got Pfizer to begin with, you’re still going to get Pfizer.

Should people who’ve already had a booster get the updated booster, too?

As long as you’ve finished your primary series, or if you qualified for a booster at least two months ago, you are good to go at any time to get the updated booster. If it’s been less than two months, you should wait until it’s been two months. You still qualify, you just have to wait.

What’s your advice for those who received the initial doses but haven’t been boosted?

It’s never too late. If you never finished your primary series, got the first shot and you didn’t get the second shot, get that second shot. You don’t have to restart the primary series. You can finish it at any time.

Ideally, you’d want to wait one to two months after getting the first one before you get the second one in the series, but if it’s six months, it’s still good. And then you wait two months after that and get your booster.

But if you’ve never gotten any kind of a booster, get your booster.

What’s your advice for healthy, younger adults who guess they won’t get very sick from COVID?

I would still advise that they get vaccinated. It is true that even with the more severe earlier versions like delta, younger, healthy adults tended to do better with the virus than older adults or compromised individuals. And it’s certainly true that omicron is a milder infection in many respects than delta was. That doesn’t mean that it’s the common cold, yet.

There are some studies that have come out that indicate that multiple bouts of COVID may confer some risk for adverse health outcomes down the line. So, it’s not something you want to get multiple times. And we still do have younger patients on occasion with severe disease if they’re unvaccinated.

(The vaccine’s) strongest point is prevention of severe disease. Even if the vaccine doesn’t totally prevent illness, you’re going to get over it faster. You’re going to be less severely ill, almost certainly. There’s a lot of advantages to (the vaccine). The benefit is just unquestionable in my mind.

Read this:Man pleads guilty in COVID drug scheme that ensnared Tennessee pharmacies

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Will boosters help limit the effects of long COVID?

I think the studies are still coming out on exactly what’s going to happen with long COVID because some people have experienced long COVID even after relatively mild primary COVID infections. Most people with the more pronounced symptoms had more severe infection, but occasionally somebody with milder infection will have long COVID qualifying symptoms. So, I think that still remains to be totally seen.

But to the extent that you can cut the severity of the illness, the duration of the illness, and maybe even shave a little bit off the likelihood of getting the illness, you’re going to be reducing the amount of long COVID. And younger people can get that, and I’ve known some people who have some long COVID symptoms, and it can be very debilitating.

How do you encourage people with breakthrough cases to keep up with the shot?

Breakthrough cases can occur. I still recommend vaccination. And if you’ve had recent COVID, you got the primary series, and you came down with COVID anyway, still get the booster.

And you can get that at any time after you’ve recovered. There’s some debate about maybe you should wait a month, or two or three, certainly no more than 90 days. But there’s no absolute, firm recommendation if you’ve had natural COVID for timing of the booster afterward, as long as you are recovered. Once you’re no longer actively symptomatic, you could get the booster. The bottom line is you ought to still get vaccinated. Everybody agrees on that. So, you should get the vaccine.

Can people who recently tested positive for COVID still get the booster?

You can get the booster. You should get the booster. You can receive it immediately after recovery from natural COVID. You could choose to wait a little bit longer if you wish, but you still should get it.

Is it safe to get the flu shot along with the updated COVID booster?

Get your flu shot! Get your flu shot!

Keeping our community immunized against influenza is an enormous benefit economically, personally, in every metric you can think of and it can be administered at the same time as a COVID booster. It’s perfectly safe to get both at the same time. Just, (probably) not in the same place, so two different arms.

There’s no data that would indicate that there’s any greater risk of getting side effects if you get both at the same time, it’s perfectly safe.

What’s the status of COVID spread in Knox County and East Tennessee?

High. The transmission rate for most of the country is still in the red on the CDC’s map. There have been some drop-offs in rates in the last couple of weeks. Globally, there’s a little bit of a drop-off in COVID. But we’re still regionally, locally, we’re still in high transmission. Still a lot of it around.

So, continuing to take prudent precautions, wearing masks in public settings. There’s just too much of it around and masks work too well when properly worn at providing a barrier against even getting the virus into you.

Which variant should we be concerned about?

You’ve heard all these various numbers like BA.4, BA.1 and BA.5; four and five or the two most recent significant omicron variants.

And the number five is running about 80 to 85% across the country. If go through it by states, it’s in that general range. That’s about what that particular omicron variant now represents out of total cases, and it’s just a smattering of the others. But BA.5 is unquestionably the dominant one. And omicron for sure; it’s 98% plus cases in the U.S.

Any other advice for our readers?

The vaccines are safe. The vaccines are effective. They work best when you’re taking prudent precautions, and we really should be looking out for each other and for our general public health, as well as our own, to try to get this under control and get back to a true normal.