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2.2 million fully vaccinated Mass. residents have not received any booster shots, officials say

A nurse prepares a COVID-19 booster shotJAMIE KELTER DAVIS/NYT

Approximately 2.2 million Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but haven’t been boosted, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The DPH said in a report released Wednesday that about 5.5 million of the state’s 7 million residents are fully vaccinated. But only about 3.3 million of them have received at least one booster dose, leaving around 2.2 million still waiting to get their first booster.

Here’s the good news for those who’ve dragged their feet: The official recommendation on boosters changed last month. Now, instead of multiple boosters, you just need to get one.

“If people who have received the primary vaccine series haven’t gotten around to getting their first (or, if eligible, second) booster yet, they are eligible for the bivalent booster, which we anticipate will provide broad and effective protection against currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant,” said Dr. Cassandra Pierre, Boston Medical Center’s associate hospital epidemiologist and medical director of public health programs,.

“There is no current indication for subsequent boosters following receipt of the bivalent vaccine,” she said in an e-mail, though she noted that new shots could come along at some time, depending on the pandemic’s twist and turns.

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Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of Boston College’s Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, said, “If you had a couple of shots before and now you go get the bivalent booster, you’re fully covered. You don’t need anything else. … It’s not like getting the full set of baseball cards. If you have the most recent card, you’re OK.”

Landrigan said that if people were vaccinated earlier, they still need the booster or they will be “at risk in the months ahead.”

“People just need to continue to be on their guard. This virus has a habit of coming back when we think we’ve got it beat. This is the season when it came back last year,” he said. He said millions of people in the state didn’t have enough protection against the virus, noting the 1.5 million that haven’t even been fully vaccinated yet.

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According to DPH data, vaccinations have picked up sharply in the weeks since the updated booster shots arrived in the state at the beginning of September. Weekly vaccinations rose to 133,515 as of the Wednesday report, up from weekly tallies of 12,718 to 32,592 in August. The report does not specify, however, the total number of people who have gotten the updated booster shots.

After the approval last month of the updated, bivalent vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, which target the two most prevalent Omicron subvariants, President Biden and other officials said the country is entering a new pandemic phase when most people will only need to get vaccinations once a year, as they do with the flu. The officials have also suggested people get the updated booster at the same time as their flu shots.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 12 and over who is fully vaccinated get one updated booster, if it has been at least two months since their last shot, whether that was the end of their primary vaccination series or one of the previous boosters. People also may consider delaying for three months if they’ve just had COVID-19.

No boosters are available for children 6 months to 4 years old. Children 5 to 11 who got the Moderna primary series cannot get a booster either. But children 5 to 11 who got a Pfizer primary series can get one of the previous, non-updated, Pfizer boosters. There are somewhat different recommendations for people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised and thus at more risk.

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The state defines fully vaccinated as two doses of the Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Children under 5 need three doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be fully vaccinated.

“The best protection against COVID-19 is remaining up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters. That means being fully vaccinated and getting a booster when you are eligible,” the DPH said in a statement. “While vaccine protection decreases over time, boosters restimulate the immune system and increase vaccine efficacy again.”

“People who are up-to-date are less likely to get sick and spread the virus that causes COVID-19, and are much less likely to develop severe disease resulting in hospitalization or death,” DPH said.

The department said it makes information about the updated booster available on its website, has hosted over 400 back-to-school vaccine clinics during August and September, continues to offer vaccination through mobile and in-home programs, and is running a public awareness campaign emphasizing the need for people to get boosters.



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.