A patient waits to be called for a COVID-19 vaccination booster shot outside a pharmacy in a grocery store, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in downtown Denver. Credit: David Zalubowski / AP

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The guidance on COVID-19 boosters has been a bit of a mess. With action from the state Wednesday to allow these additional shots for all adults, and the potential for the federal government to do the same as soon as later this week, hopefully a confusing situation is becoming a lot clearer at an important time.

Despite high vaccination rates, Maine has still been experiencing a surge in cases of COVID-19 and this week saw its highest number of hospitalizations. Booster shots for people who are already vaccinated aren’t going to solve this puzzle, but they can add another layer of protection heading into winter and the holidays.

COVID cases in Maine have correlated with local vaccination rates, with less vaccinated areas seeing higher cases. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings released in September, unvaccinated people are more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die. Those numbers should get the attention of anyone who hasn’t yet decided to get vaccinated.

Studies have also shown a drop in the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines over time. That is not evidence that the vaccines don’t work. Waning immunity has been around a lot longer than COVID-19. But it is a reason for vaccinated people to consider getting a booster shot to re-up the level of protection that the vaccine provides them and those around them.

The U.S. CDC first recommended boosters of the Pfizer vaccine in September for certain people starting six months after their second dose, but it’s likely that many people didn’t even realize they were eligible based on layered and, frankly, confusing guidance. Moderna boosters were included when the CDC expanded eligibility in October. Since then, the CDC has recommended boosters for anyone aged 65 and older, but age has not been the only factor. The CDC has also recommended boosters to any adults with pre-existing medical conditions or those who are at high risk due to their occupation or living situation. Additionally, anyone aged 18 and older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been recommended to get a booster two months after their first shot.  

Those guidelines could understandably raise more questions than they answer for many people. On Wednesday, Maine announced that it is now expanding booster eligibility to all adults, a much simpler and straightforward approach. Several other states have also broadened eligibility or announced plans to do so, including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Kansas and New Mexico.

“With Maine and other New England states confronting a sustained surge, and with cold weather sending people indoors, we want to simplify the Federal government’s complicated eligibility guidelines and make getting a booster shot as straightforward and easy as possible,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a press release announcing the move on Wednesday.

This was the right call, and hopefully the federal government won’t be too far behind. Up to this point, the booster debate among federal advisory panels seems like a case of the bureaucracy not keeping pace with the epidemiological reality on the ground.

“This is the real crux of the issue: Do we need to boost now to protect against all disease, or wait and only hit the ‘boost’ button when levels of protection against severe disease wane further?” Paul Spearman, director of the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, told CQ-Roll Call.“I personally think we should boost everyone, because the primary two-dose series is much inferior to the level of immunity that is achieved after a third dose.”

Notably, the Mills administration did not position this announcement as a break from the federal recommendations. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has justified the move by saying that due to the current sustained surge in COVID-19 cases, all Mainers are living or working in high-risk settings.

Any Maine adult who is six months past their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna, or two months past their shot of Johnson & Johnson, is now eligible for a COVID-19 booster. You can find a pharmacy or medical office that is providing the shots, which are free, through a list compiled by the state at https://www.maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination- sites


The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...