Why get a booster?

Published February 4, 2022

headshot of Thomas Russo.

The start of the spring semester has come with questions about the need for a COVID-19 booster shot, which is strongly encouraged for UB employees and required by SUNY for students once medically eligible.

So, UB Now reached out for some answers from Thomas Russo, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a member of UB’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee.

As of Feb. 2, some 24,000 students have verified they received their booster, with proof still outstanding from another 1,800 eligible students. Those students have been contacted either to get a booster or upload their information.

Among UB faculty and staff, just about 50% have reported receiving a booster.

If I just got over COVID, why do I need a booster?

If you have been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 there’s no question that’s going to afford a degree of protection against subsequent infection.

However, we do know that if you have been infected with any of the pre-omicron variants — such as alpha or delta — the immunity acquired affords imperfect protection against omicron.

And if you have been infected with omicron — particularly if you had asymptomatic or mild infection, which is often the case for individuals who have received their first two shots — the magnitude and durability of the resultant immune response is unpredictable.

Therefore, the most reliable way to ensure optimal protection is for you to receive the booster shot.

The state doesn’t mandate vaccination for SUNY employees. What’s your message to UB employees who might be reluctant to get boosted?

An increasing body of evidence is emerging on the benefit of being boosted in the omicron phase of this pandemic. Data from the UK report that efficacy for preventing hospitalization and death was 35% and 59%, respectively, with only two shots, but increases to 90% and 95%, respectively, after three shots.

U.S. data on preventing hospitalization is similar; in three studies two shots resulted in only 44%, 68% and 57% effectiveness, whereas three shots increased effectiveness to 88%, 89% and 90%.

The message is simple and unequivocal: At this time, optimal protection requires being boosted.

I understand the reason for boosters among older, vulnerable populations, but why mandate them for college students?

Although the magnitude of the benefit from a booster shot in protecting against a serious acute infection is going to be less for younger, healthier individuals, no one is absolutely bulletproof. Further, intermediate or long-term consequences of getting COVID is a significant concern. Therefore, there is no question a booster will benefit the individual.

Equally important, it will help break the transmission chain and decrease the likelihood that you can transmit to others. So, not only does the booster shot afford you a personal benefit, it benefits the UB community and the Western New York community at large.

It’s not just about you.

So, boosters help ensure UB can safely remain in person throughout the semester?


If I already had COVID, do I need to wait a period of time before I get a booster?

Students who have recently had COVID-19 and are eligible for a booster shot must get their booster within seven days once they have finished their 10-day isolation period and are asymptomatic. This assumes the individual does not have another valid medical exemption.

Your 10-day isolation period may consist of five days of isolation and five days of restricted activity consisting of rigorous mask use and minimizing interactions with others, as long as on day five you no longer have a fever and your symptoms are improving.

Am I at risk for any adverse reactions if I get a booster, particularly after having COVID?

It’s not uncommon for 24 to 48 hours to have those reactogenic symptoms — soreness at the site of infection, a sense of fever, muscle aches, possibly a headache.

Whatever reactogenic symptoms you had with your previous shot, you’ll likely get something of a similar order of magnitude with your booster shot, as well.

Certainly, on a population basis, those reactogenic symptoms have not been any worse with the third shots compared to the first two shots. Importantly, there has been no increase in safety signals of concern from booster shots.