CDC: College Students Should Get a COVID Booster Shot

The CDC strengthened its COVID-19 vaccine booster shot recommendation in response to the omicron variant.
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  • The CDC strengthened its recommendation in response to the omicron variant.
  • Data from South Africa suggests the omicron variant is highly transmissible.
  • Institutions responded by encouraging their students to get vaccinated and/or a booster.

For vaccinated college students undecided about getting a booster shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made the decision a lot easier. The CDC says the students and all other vaccinated adults should get a booster shot.

The CDC strengthened its booster shot recommendation on Nov. 29 in response to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

All adults 18 and older should get a booster shot six months after the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two months after the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the agency said.

"Today, CDC is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older," the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement. "The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19."

Walensky said data from South Africa suggests the omicron variant is highly transmissible and that scientists are trying to determine if the current vaccines are effective against it.

"I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well," she said.

Just 10 days earlier, the CDC had expanded its booster shot advisory to say that some adults "should" get a booster shot, while others "may" choose to get one depending on which vaccine they received. It was a stance that drew immediate criticism from some.

"I don't understand the 'should/may' split. That just confuses, everyone over 18 should get the booster, otherwise we won't get back to normal," tweeted Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine.

"My concern is that, with the messaging so muddled, the booster dose has somehow been framed as a luxury, as something that would be nice to have but it doesn't really matter if you get it. That is not the case," said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University.

Institutions responded by encouraging their students to get vaccinated and/or a booster.

The University of Utah is among those that has tried to "clear up misconceptions and confusion" about booster shots with a post to its website. The university didn't tell its students to get a booster shot, but it did note that the CDC's guidance is "stronger than just a recommendation."

"A booster shot is not something unique to COVID-19," the university said in the post. "In fact, booster shots are common for many of the vaccines that doctors and health officials recommend for everyone. The most common booster shots people get are annual flu vaccines and boosters for Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) every 10 years."

At Harvard University, the advice being offered to students is straightforward and part of a vaccine policy that is consistent with federal guidelines, a university spokesman told BestColleges.

"Campus-wide vaccination is the best defense against the coronavirus," the university says on its website. "Harvard strongly encourages boosters for everyone who is eligible."

The University of Utah and Harvard don't provide booster shots on campus, but some schools have done so since they were first made available in October on a limited basis. Syracuse University, for example, offers booster shots to student employees.

Boston University, Temple University, Grand Rapids Community College, the University of Maryland, Princeton University, Seattle Pacific University, and Duke University also provide booster shots through on-campus facilities.

"Now that the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved all three COVID-19 vaccines for booster shots, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to get one soon," Dr. John Vaughn, Duke's director of student health, said in a statement posted to the university's website.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Associate Medical Director Shawn Ferullo offered some advice to all students as they plan ahead for the holidays.

"You might want to think of it (a booster shot) as an extra layer of protection that you can keep in reserve for a time when you really need it," he said. "For example, if you are planning to travel to an area where the vaccination rate is low and community transmission is high, or if you are traveling to visit especially vulnerable family members or friends during the upcoming winter break, you might want to time that booster for two or three weeks before your trip."

The CDC also has a website that provides information about what students and others can do to protect themselves from the coronavirus.