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Verify: Yes, you do need an extra COVID-19 dose if you have a weakened immune system

We asked the experts

NEW ORLEANS — Health experts say COVID-19 vaccines and boosters offer the best protection against serious illness with the Coronavirus. However, for those who are immunocompromised, there's a question about what they need to do to help build up their immune system.

All over the United States, COVID-19 vaccines are being administered daily. And for most, experts say two to three shots will be enough to build a proper defense against the virus.

However, we've seen people asking on social media about those with a weakened immune system, and if proper protection means getting an extra dose?

So let's Verify: if you're immunocompromised, is it recommended you get an extra dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for better protection?

Our sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Lucio Miele, MD, PhD. Miele works at LSU Health's Genetics and Precision Medicine Lab.

First, the CDC defines someone to be immunocompromised in several ways:

  • been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

**You should talk to your healthcare provider about your medical condition, and whether getting an additional primary shot is appropriate for you

"So these people need an extra hand to build an immune response because their immune responses are kept down by medications or for other reasons," said Miele.

For those who got a mRNA vaccine (either Pfizer or Moderna), the CDC says after getting the initial two doses, some moderately or severely immunocompromised people will need a third dose. It'll be given 28 days after the second shot. Miele also wants to be clear, this is different from a booster.

"So a booster dose is used when your original vaccine series elicited a strong immune response, but that response is declining in time," he said. "An additional first dose means the first two doses did not achieve sufficient immune response and so you need an additional dose to complete your primary vaccination. So they'll take a first shot, a second shot, a third shot, and that's their full vaccination. Then they have to wait for a period of time depending on the vaccination before they're eligible for a booster."

So yes, it's true, it is recommended you get an extra dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if you're immunocompromised.

For those who are immunocompromised and initially got a Johnson&Johnson shot, the CDC recommends no additional dose is need at this time. However, it does say those 18 and up should get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna two months after the first dose.

More information can be found here.

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