The most effective way to reduce Covid deaths, however, does not involve boosters. It involves persuading more unvaccinated Americans to get their first shot. Their risks are far higher than the risks facing the unboosted. Unfortunately, public health officials acknowledge that they don’t know how to increase that number very much. About four-fifths of the unvaccinated — a group that is disproportionately Republican — say they will “definitely not” get a shot, according to Kaiser.
Covid remains so deadly largely because millions of Americans have decided they would rather accept its risks than receive a vaccine shot.
Do younger people need one?
Whether to get a booster shot is a closer call for healthy people under 50, many experts believe. Rates of severe Covid are already so low among this group that booster shots don’t seem to have a huge health benefit. Of course, the downsides of the shots also seem to be small, because research has consistently shown them to be safe.
But getting a booster shot is not wholly without downsides. Some people are fearful of needles or prefer to avoid taking unnecessary medicines. Other people were sick for a day or two after getting an earlier Covid shot and would prefer not to repeat the experience. For hourly workers and single parents, a day in bed can also bring financial or logistical burdens, especially in a country without guaranteed sick leave or child care.
For these reasons, many experts stop short of telling younger adults and children that they need to be boosted. “I’m not in the camp of saying if you’re under 50, you have to do it,” Andy Slavitt, a former Covid adviser to President Biden and former head of Medicare and Medicaid, told me. “Reasonable people could come out on different sides of it.” Similarly, Dr. Paul Sax, a leader of the infectious-disease division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said, “I don’t think it’s as clear for young healthy people as for older people to get the booster.”
Still, if you’re a booster skeptic, I would encourage you to keep in mind that many of these same experts — including Sax and Slavitt — are encouraging the younger adults in their own families to get booster shots.
Why? For one thing, the data suggests that a booster reduces a person’s chances of being infected with Covid, at least for a few months, and even a moderate Covid infection can keep somebody in bed for days. It can sometimes lead to longer-term symptoms, too. Perhaps most important, a younger person could infect an older person for whom Covid might be more severe.