Dr. Ashish Jha has an easy-to-remember deadline for when you should get the new omicron-specific booster shot: Halloween.
"Why Halloween? Because three weeks after Halloween is Thanksgiving, and there's a lot of travel, and you're seeing family, and you're seeing friends — and a few weeks later, it's the holidays," Jha, the White House's Covid response coordinator, said during an episode of the "In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt" podcast on Monday.
"We know respiratory viruses circulate at much higher levels in the fall and winter. It's a really good time to get yourself protected," Jha added. "And even if you yourself are on the low-risk side, you're going to have family and friends you're going to see. You don't want to be the person who gives it to your grandma."
The new shots from Pfizer and Moderna, which target both the original Covid strain and omicron's BA.5 and BA.4 subvariants, are available to a wide swath of Americans who have received their primary vaccination series.
If you have a high risk of severe Covid, you may want to get the new shot much earlier than Halloween, Jha noted. That includes people who are elderly or immunocompromised, and those with underlying medical conditions.
Likewise, if you only recently got a Covid vaccine or recovered from a Covid infection, you might want to wait a little bit, Jha acknowledged. The CDC says you need to be at least two months out from your last dose of any Covid vaccine, and should consider waiting three months if you've recently had the virus.
Jha said it's better to get the new shot sooner rather than later, urging people to avoid waiting until late November and December if they can. The doses will serve as an extra layer of protection that will be badly needed during the fall and winter, when immunity from previous vaccines wanes and people spend a lot more time indoors, he said.
The weather during those seasons also turns the air cold and dry, making it easier for tiny droplets of the virus to survive when people sneeze, cough or talk. New U.S. cases rose to a then-record high in December 2021, with a seven-day average of more than 265,000 per day. The country saw a similar escalating surge in cases in late 2020.
Even if you aren't worried about getting the virus yourself, Jha said to remember that you can still spread it to high-risk loved ones during fall and winter social gatherings, from Thanksgiving through the winter holidays.
"You don't want to be the person who gives it to your vulnerable friend who's immunocompromised," he said. "Lots of good reasons for people to go get it this fall."