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Should Teachers Get COVID-19 Booster Shots?

third shot
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Educators under 65 are eligible for COVID-19 booster shots according to the CDC, but the agency’s guidelines leave room for interpretation as to when teachers under 65 should get one. 

What the Guidelines Say  

“Certain people, based on their occupation, may be at increased risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 while at work,” the CDC states. “CDC recommends that people who work in those occupations may get a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot at least six months after completion of their Pfizer-BioNTech initial series.” 

Education staff, including teachers, administrative and support staff, and daycare workers, are listed among the professions eligible for a booster shot, however, the phrasing of the guidance has led to some confusion. COVID-19 boosters are expected to be opened to all adults soon, possibly before Thanksgiving. 

Should Educators Who Received Pfizer or Moderna Vaccines Get a COVID-19 Booster Shot? 

Ultimately, the answer is yes, but right now the question depends on who you ask and who is asking. “Everyone should be getting a booster shot,” says Gigi Kwik Gronvall, PhD, an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Some states have already said that anyone can get it. Others have suggested that you take the ‘live or work in high-risk area’ very liberally. But there are no downsides to boosting your protection and considerable upsides.” 

Diego R. Hijano, MD, MSc, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, agrees. “I think it’s important for teachers to really consider getting their boosters,” Hijano says. Older teachers and those with underlying conditions should do it, as well as younger teachers with good health. “As a teacher you're exposed to a lot of kids who may or may not be vaccinated, depending on what grade you teach, and even if you teach high school, depending on where you work in the U.S., anywhere from 30 percent to 80 percent of your kids won't be vaccinated.” 

Howard Forman, MD, MBA, from The Yale School of Public Health, agrees that those with underlying conditions should get a COVID-19 booster shot, and that everyone will need one eventually. However, he says that certain educators at lower risk from COVID may opt to wait. “You have to ask yourself how often you want to be getting boosters, how risky is your current environment, and how comfortable you are with your potential contribution to the risk. And so I think it really comes down to individual choice,” he says. “If you're a 25- or 30-year-old individual who doesn't live with elderly family members, or who doesn't otherwise have people around you who you might be putting at risk, your current vaccination status protects you very well, and even if you have a breakthrough case, it's almost certainly going to be mild.” 

Should Educators Who Received the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Get a COVID-19 Booster Shot?  

Yes. “If you have a J&J and you are more than two months out, please don’t wait, and boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Gronvall says. 

Hijano says that which COVID-19 booster vaccine Johnson & Johnson recipients get can be a matter of personal preference. Some women might be worried about very rare blood clots from Johnson & Johnson and so may prefer one of the MRNA vaccines, while some younger men might worry about rare risks of myocarditis. “You can combine any way you want when you get the booster,” Hijano says. “People can go, ‘Okay, what is the one that I fear the least and what is the one I desire the most?’” 

Could Waiting More Than Six Months For a COVID-19 Booster Shot Help?  

Forman says this question depends on several factors. “One, is side effects of the vaccine -- they're not inconsequential. And so, to the extent that you might be losing a day at work every time you get a booster shot, you might want to stretch it as long as possible,” he says. “Two, is that there is a limited supply, and that to the extent that people want to consider global vaccine equity, delaying your booster to an ideal time, rather than an early time, does contribute to global vaccine equity.” 

Some also theorize that delaying the vaccine might actually increase the efficacy of a third dose. Gronvall doesn’t agree with that thinking or that holding off makes sense. “I don’t know why you would wait,” she says. “You are hoping to forestall serious infections now. If it turns out we need to be boosted every six months, so be it, but people should take advantage of the ability to get the booster now.” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a journalist, author and educator. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.