News & Advice

Now That Pfizer Has Requested Boosters for All Adults, Should You Get Boosted Before Traveling?

As with everything these days, it depends. 
Hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings

As the days inch closer to the busy Thanksgiving travel season and with COVID-19 cases on the rise in 20 states, there’s now a push to get American adults their booster shots as soon as possible. Pfizer and BioNTech put in a request on Tuesday to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize third doses for all adults who are at least 18 years old, but the timeline could cut it close for those interested in getting a booster shot before their turkey dinner.

It will likely take a “few weeks before full approval” for all adults, says UC San Francisco infectious disease medical educator Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. “It should come in time for the bulk of holiday travel however.”

But some areas aren’t waiting around for that stamp of approval. In the California Bay Area, Santa Clara County opened up boosters Wednesday to any adult who was vaccinated six or more months ago. “We want to safeguard the public and prevent a COVID-19 surge as the holiday season approaches,” the county’s Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “Get your booster now and make your Thanksgiving gathering safer.”

With urgency coming from some corners but federal approval still on hold, it's difficult to determine whether or not travelers should rush to get their shots. But when it comes down to it, it all depends on which age and exposure group an individual falls into.

Chin-Hong breaks the population up into three categories, urging those ages 65 years or older who got the vaccine six months ago or earlier to schedule a booster appointment ASAP. "The vaccine immunity is waning enough to increase not only breakthrough infections, but breakthrough hospitalizations in this group,” he says. 

Those ages 18 to 64 with more exposure risk in the workplace are generally still “well protected.” That said, “even one breakthrough infection that feels like a cold or allergies will result in potential isolation and time away from work that could have negative workforce, economic, and morale repercussions,” Chin-Hong says. Those two groups are currently eligible for boosters by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

The rest of the population is still “well-protected against serious disease,” according to Chin-Hong—and they’re the ones for which the new Pfizer approval is imminent. 

“As long as average-risk individuals have received their two Pfizer doses and their second dose was at least two weeks before travel, their immunity should be sufficient to protect them from serious illness or hospitalization from a COVID-19 infection," says Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s medical director of primary care Dr. David Buchholz. "That’s true if the second dose was two weeks ago or 10 months ago.”

That means that even if booster approval does comes through, but individuals aren’t able to get theirs before Thanksgiving travel, it’s not cause for alarm. 

For those who received Moderna, there's no need to be worried about a booster just yet, with Buchholz adding, “There is no need for average-risk recipients of Moderna to be concerned as long as it has been two weeks since their second dose.” And no matter what shot was given the first round, the booster can be any of the three vaccines distributed in the U.S., according to the CDC. (Boosters are already approved and recommended for all adults who initially got Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine two months after their single dose.)

Travelers still need to be aware that boosters don’t mean that it’s free rein to wander the world in the midst of the pandemic, especially since the rest of the world is on different timelines. “Look at the destination’s COVID stats like you look at the weather report,” Chin-Hong says. “If [it's] high (like much of Europe now), postpone the trip or take the usual precautions (like masks if crowded indoors).”

Buchholz says to also pay attention to the primary vaccination rates in the destinations. “Take greater precautions if the area has lower vaccination rates,” he adds.

During this in-between period as the FDA considers the boosters-for-all-adults authorization, it's all about weighing personal stats against those in the destination. But ultimately, when the time comes, experts seem to all agree that the additional jab is the way to go. “Boosters are safe, easily available, and people can still incorporate [them] into their travel schedule,” Chin-Hong says. Buchholz adds: “Everyone should get vaccinated and boosted when it is their turn.”