I just recovered from Omicron. Do I need to rush out and get a booster shot?
With the Omicron variant circulating widely in Quebec and around the world, more and more people are getting natural immunity from the coronavirus and left wondering: should I wait to get my booster shot?
The surge in cases comes as the province is opening up booster shots to more age groups. As of Tuesday, people aged 55 to 59 can book their appointment as Quebec slowly expands eligibility by five-year age groups throughout the month of January.
But if you’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered from it, is there still a sense or urgency to get a third dose of the vaccine?
Probably not, according to public health experts.
With tens of thousands of people testing positive daily in recent weeks and recovering, it’s a question that is on the minds of many as booster shots become more widely available.
For someone who had contracted Omicron after receiving two doses of the vaccine, they will have a considerable antibody response from the infection and there is “perhaps less of a rush to get a booster dose,” according to Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist with McGill University.
The science, however, is not clear yet on what the delay should be.
“But from basic principles of immunology, you could probably estimate somewhere between two to three months after you've recovered from your Omicron infection to go ahead and get your booster dose,” Dr. Vinh said.
PEOPLE INFECTED WITH DELTA VARIANT CAN CONTRACT OMICRON
Only time will tell whether getting Omicron after being double vaccinated will provide enough antibodies to stave off another variant of COVID-19, but for now experts say there is no downside to getting a booster after recovering from Omicron. There’s just no sense of urgency in getting the third dose, in most cases.
Vinh warns that people who got infected with a variant of the coronavirus that predates Omicron, such as Delta, should certainly still get their booster after their recovery, between eight weeks or three months after their infection.
“Again, there is no hard data to guide the exact timing,” he said.
Data from South Africa, one of the world's first Omicron hot spots, shows that people who previously had the Delta variant can be re-infected with Omicron, but in the reverse, people who had Omicron don’t seem to be highly susceptible to contracting Delta.
What people are facing in Quebec is a lack of data from public health. Many people are not told which variant they have been infected with when they get their PCR test results as health-care workers are being stretched thin and have had to scale back follow-ups with the general public.
“And this is an unfortunate situation that I've heard about from a lot of people when people say, ‘Oh, I tested somewhere and public health told me I was positive’ and now they have symptoms and we don't know what variant they have. And it's not actually purely an esoteric or academic issue, because there are certain medications that will work well for Delta and not to work well for Omicron,” said Vinh.
“So that's why it's important to know the variant, at least at the clinical level, so we know how to best guide our treatment.”
Other experts agree that there is no certainty on the length of time people should wait before getting a post-COVID booster.
“Unfortunately, the science is not clear on this," said Dr. Cécile Tremblay of the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal in an email to The Canadian Press. “We have to wait for the results of studies comparing the immune response of these people vs. the third dose. In the meantime, it is better to wait.”
A recent report from the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) noted that a recent infection could provide “robust” protection from the coronavirus that could be stronger than vaccination.
The report recommended waiting anywhere from eight weeks to three months from infection to administering the booster shot.
'CARELESS' TO SKIP THE BOOSTER
While it’s true that an infection can provide the body with higher antibodies, people should not consider themselves invincible from the highly contagious virus that has kept surprising the world for nearly two years.
What Vinh is certain about is that people still need a booster, regardless of previous infection, and skipping it all together would be “careless.”
“Not all of those antibodies are necessarily what we call neutralizing or, you know, protecting us. Some are generated but are not particularly effective in controlling the bug. Whereas there are other ones that are very helpful," he said.
“I'm not sure that we are convinced that letting yourself get naturally infected or getting the infection accidentally from other people is the way to go about generating the antibody levels that are going to protect you in this or future waves. And we do know that the antibody levels actually vary in terms of both the amount, or what we call a titer, in terms of the scope or broad capacity.
And so the general consensus is that even if you were infected, you should still get vaccinated.”
With files from The Canadian Press