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Need a booster if you've recovered from a breakthrough COVID-19 infection? Maybe not right away

Nurse preparing a man's arm for a vaccine.
Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County
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It's unclear exactly how much immunity a breakthrough infection provides, but some studies suggest it could be substantial.

People can safely get booster shots as soon as they recover from breakthrough infections, but some experts suggest waiting a little longer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging all adults eligible for a COVID-19 booster to get one as soon as possible to protect themselves from new variants such as omicron. But if you've had a recent breakthrough case of coronavirus, some health experts suggest you might benefit from waiting to get a booster shot.

University of South Florida Health immunologist Michael Teng said people who recently recovered from a breakthrough infection just put their immune system to work. There's no data to suggest getting a booster shortly after that would be harmful. People can safely get boosters so long as their 10-day isolation period has ended and they no longer have symptoms.

But Teng said there also may not be much to gain by stimulating the immune system again so soon. He suggests most people who recover from breakthroughs wait at least a month or so before getting a booster.

Those who received monoclonal antibody treatment should wait about three months before getting another dose of vaccine.

“You know you're trying to make your immune system recognize the spike protein that's encoded in the vaccines, so if the spike protein is made but is immediately blocked by these monoclonal antibodies that are in your system, your immune system won't have a chance to recognize it again,” he explained.

RELATED: Find out where you can get a booster shot in Tampa Bay

The CDC also says people who receive monoclonal antibodies need to wait at least 90 days before getting a vaccine, as do kids and adolescents who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome due to COVID. But as for other people who have breakthrough infections, the agency does not have specific instructions.

“Current evidence about the optimal timing between SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination is insufficient to inform guidance,” the CDC says on its website.

Boosters are still essential to combat the virus

Teng stressed researchers still don't know how much immunity a breakthrough infection provides on top of the initial vaccination series. Some early studies suggest it could be substantial.

But Teng said everyone will need boosters eventually to ensure the community has all the protection it can get as new variants continue to pose threats.

“You can see omicron increasing quite rapidly so it's really important, as soon as you're eligible for that booster, you should get it because the primary series of the vaccine is not enough,” he said.

Data suggests having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is only about 30-40% effective at preventing coronavirus infection, but that getting a booster shot brings that rate up to 70-80%. Vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe disease.

Health experts say people who are older or have chronic health conditions are most in need of boosters, but the CDC is recommending them for everyone ages 18 and older who were last vaccinated at least six months ago.

Find out where you can get a booster in the Tampa Bay area with our vaccination guide.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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