California issues new guidelines on who can get booster shots

If you’re 18 and older and fully vaccinated, you can get a COVID booster shot in California, despite CDC guidance that boosters should only be for some people at high risk.  

When the CDC made its recommendations for who should get a booster shot, officials said people 65 and older and people 18 and older who either have underlying health conditions or live or work in high-risk settings, like a hospital or grocery store. 

But in a letter this week, the state told health care providers to not turn anyone away, even if they don’t meet the CDC’s criteria. The letter said people 18 and older are eligible for a booster shot as long as it has been at least six months since their second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two months since their single Johnson & Johnson shot. 

Santa Clara County is trying to make the message even more clear, saying everyone is eligible, so if you’re fully vaccinated, come get a booster shot.

"I think what the public heard was ‘I have to be 65 or else I shouldn’t get a booster.’ And that’s not correct, that’s not correct," said Santa Clara County Public Health Director Sara Cody said on Thursday. "If you look at the CDC guidelines and you drill down to the various groups, what you end up with is the recognition that pretty much everybody is eligible." 

Cody said it's even more important to get a booster shot now so that you're safe during the week of Thanksgiving.

"We're coming into the holidays, we’re coming into one of the busiest travel days of the year, and there’s a great way to protect yourself and your family and your friends and the community, and that is by getting a booster shot," said Cody.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, said immunity from the vaccines wanes after about 6 months. That is allowing for some breakthrough infections that feel like a cold, but the vaccine is still protecting people from death or needing to go to the hospital because of COVID.

"Frankly if an individual is really worried about getting a breakthrough infection and really wants to maximize their protection, go get it. There’s really not a good reason to sit home and just worry about it. I would just get a booster at that point, we have plenty of vaccine," said Swartzberg.

He said allowing everyone to get a booster is better logistically.

But Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor at UCSF, is worried that messaging saying everyone needs a booster shot makes it sound like the vaccines aren't working, when they are. 

"There was a very nice study from Texas yesterday that showed us that vaccinated people were 13 time less likely to get infected and 10 times less likely to die with the vaccines than if you’re unvaccinated. So us focusing our efforts on unvaccinated people in the United States would be really important, and we don’t want to tell unvaccinated people that vaccines don’t work by talking about boosters too much ," said Gandhi.

Even though the vaccines are readily available, data from the CDC shows less than 40% of people 65 and older who are fully vaccinated in California have gotten their booster shots.

Other states are making this distinction too. On Thursday, Colorado expanded eligibility to allow everyone to get a booster shot. 

This week Pfizer also asked the FDA to officially authorize boosters for everyone 18 and older.