Officials ended months of drawn-out debate when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded eligibility for COVID-19 boosters on Nov. 19. Now, many are making appointments and preparing for their additional dose, adding to the over 36 million people who have already received their supplemental shot, according to the CDC data. But while official guidelines on what to do before getting your COVID booster remain almost identical to your initial shots, there is one thing doctors are saying you should avoid leading up to it.
For months, some have fretted over the idea of knowing how protected they are from infection by checking their COVID antibody levels after illness or receiving their initial vaccine doses. But when patients ask if they should take such a test to check if a booster shot is needed, doctors suggest they forgo the procedure. “The overwhelming answer is no,” Mo Rezaie, MD, a physician at Fort Worth Primary Care in Texas, tells local CBS affiliate KTVT.
While vaccines work by generating an immune response in the body that produces protective antibodies, officials have warned for months that lab results can’t be used to determine how well you’re covered. “You should not interpret the results of your SARS-CoV-2 antibody test as an indication of a specific level of immunity or protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the FDA wrote in a notice posted on May 19, 2021.
Experts explain that while the idea of checking might seem logical, a high reading might only provide a sense of false hope. “The problem is we don’t have a quantitative antibody test that will tell us this number is good as far as your immunity,” Jay Herd, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, told KTVT.
Others point out that not only can immune responses can differ from person to person but so do the types of antibodies in someone’s system. “We have a mix of antibodies. Some of them are very good and protective. Some are not as protective,” Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an immunologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and studying the antibody response to the coronavirus, told NPR.
A low level of antibodies in your blood also does not mean you’re not protected against the virus, either. Experts say your immune system has many ways of fighting off potential invaders. “Antibody tests—it’s really probing just one part of your immune system,” Elitza Theel, PhD, director of the Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, told NPR.
Officials have taken the upcoming holiday season as a time-sensitive reason to emphasize the importance of booster shots. During a press conference on Nov. 22, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), urged the public to make use of the newly expanded eligibility. “Heading into the winter months, when respiratory viruses are more likely to spread, and with plans for increased holiday season travel and gatherings, boosting people’s overall protection against COVID-19 disease and death was important to do now,” Walensky said.
And with cases spiking on a national level once again after weeks of decline, others are hoping that boosters can help avoid another significant winter surge. “We need all the protection we can get right now,” Rezaie said.