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Why You Shouldn't Skip Your Second COVID-19 Vaccine

Between loosened COVID-19 restrictions, the elimination of mask mandates and rising vaccination rates, it would be easy to assume the coronavirus pandemic is well behind us. While it is true the U.S. has administered more than 300,000 vaccine doses, the reality is there is a percentage of Americans who have skipped out on their second shot, going against the recommendation of receiving both for maximum effectiveness. 

But does missing your second dose really make a difference? In short, yes. To help further this point, we addressed several common topics and questions people have about the importance of not skipping your second COVID-19 vaccine.

Why are there two doses of the COVID vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authorized the use of three COVID-19 vaccines. Two of these vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — are administered in two doses.

If you’re wondering why not just use one dose instead of two, spreading out the vaccine over several weeks helps provide you with added immunity against the coronavirus.

Think of the second dose as supplemental. Yes, you will still have protection against COVID-19 if you only receive one dose, but receiving the second shot will provide that much more protection. In other words, the second dose not only boosts your immunity, but it also provides longer lasting immunity.

The first dose primes your immune system, alerting it of the virus and creating an antibody response. When the second dose is administered, your body is already familiar with the virus and can act swiftly to defend against harmful pathogens. The second dose acts as a booster to ensure immunity is long lasting.

The idea of a second shot isn’t new. Shingles is administered in two doses, and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) features a booster shot given in adulthood.

What if you don't get the second COVID shot?

In April, a New York Times article made waves around the country, noting how 8 percent (or about 5 million Americans) weren’t receiving their second vaccination. By mid-June, those figures increased to 12 percent of Americans who weren’t getting a second dose, according to CDC data.

As of early July, more than 181 million Americans (54.6 percent) received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and more than 155 million (47 percent) are fully vaccinated. In Oklahoma, there have been more than 3.2 million doses administered — 1.7 million Oklahomans have received at least one dose and 1.5 million people are fully vaccinated.

On the surface, the numbers are headed in a positive direction as a majority of Americans are receiving their second dose. However, there is still a faction of the country using a one-and-done approach to the vaccine.

Pennsylvania is among the worst offenders in the country, with more than 16 percent of residents failing to receive their second dose, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why does this matter? A CDC study showed adults 65 and older who received both doses were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to just 64 percent less likely for those who were partially vaccinated. 

Put simply: Not receiving the second vaccine increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. An additional study from March showed one vaccine dose limited risk of infection by 80 percent compared to 90 percent with two doses.

If there was any more incentive needed, receiving both doses can help your community slow the spread of COVID-19 and allow your city, state and country to reach herd immunity faster.

COVID vaccine effectiveness against virus variants

Although more and more Americans are receiving vaccinations, COVID-19 still looms due to variants and mutations that have developed over the past several months.

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is among the most notable mutations to make headlines, first in India and now in the U.S. In fact, the Delta variant accounts for one in five new COVID-19 cases, according to recent CDC data.

The good news is the Pfizer vaccine was recently found to be 88 percent effective against the Delta variant two weeks after receiving the second dose. The effectiveness plummeted to just 33 percent when receiving only one dose. This is just another reason why it’s so important to get your second dose.

What if you miss your second COVID shot?

The Pfizer vaccine has a 21-day window between shots, while the Moderna vaccine has a 28-day window. While you shouldn’t receive a second dose before these dates, there isn’t a cutoff date for your second shot

Generally, you should get it as soon as possible if you happen to miss your second dose. Officially, the CDC says doses can be given up to six weeks apart. But even if you receive the shot weeks, or even months, afterward, it will still provide immunity. If the second dose is administered beyond six weeks, you don’t need to restart the series of vaccines.

Whatever you do, make it a priority to get your second COVID-19 vaccine. The old adage “better late than never” applies here.

How to get your second dose of COVID vaccine

Initially, some people had issues scheduling their second vaccination or dealt with scarce supply from their providers. Many of these problems have been alleviated now that the vaccine rollout is more than six months old.

Depending on where you receive your first dose, the site may automatically schedule you for your second dose to limit the risk of you forgetting. If not, be sure to ask the site what the best process is for scheduling the second dose.

To help ensure you receive the correct vaccine and to help with documentation, you should try and receive both doses at the same location. Should you need assistance scheduling your second appointment, visit your local city or state health department website. In Oklahoma, you can schedule your second dose online by using this link.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, please contact a primary care physician.


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