‘Will the third dose be the new normal?’ UCSF doctor on debate around COVID vax booster

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

The Biden administration today encouraged booster shots for people who got the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations. 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke today during a press briefing: “Starting the week of Sept. 20, fully-vaccinated adults could begin getting their booster shots eight months after their second shot of an mRNA vaccine.”

Protection from those vaccines decreases over time. The FDA still has to sign off on the plan and determine if third shots are safe and effective.

Elderly people, nursing home residents, and health care workers will have priority. Just last week, the FDA approved a booster shot for people with compromised immune systems.  

But some critics say a third dose should not be a priority at all, and the U.S. should take care of poor nations that haven’t been able to quickly vaccinate their population first. 

“It's kind of like [a] pre-emptive measure, it makes sense. I think a lot of people say, ‘You don't have to wait for the house to catch on fire, why don't you have a fire extinguisher on hand?’ … That's kind of why the booster recommendation is going to the nursing home population,” says Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, UCSF professor of medicine who specializes in treating infectious diseases. 

However, he asks if it’s too early for the rest of us to get boosters. “It may have repercussions for optics, for confusion in people, for reprioritization of a super vaccinated country … and then another part of the country is super unvaccinated. That's kind of where we are going to be.”

He notes that the idea of a third shot isn’t new in the vaccine world. He says with the human papillomavirus (HPV), it started as a three-dose series, and then after further studies, researchers decided young people only needed two doses.

“What they were realizing is that three doses is [a] logistic nightmare for a lot of people, and people weren't showing up for their third dose. And then they studied and found that they were just as good as two doses.”

He adds, “So is that third dose going to be the new normal? … We do know that a lot of folks have gone out and gotten a third dose. Probably more than a million Americans by some accounts already. It's not going to be unsafe. … I think it's probably more important to vaccinate the unvaccinated with any shot at all.”



  • Dr. Peter Chin-Hong - professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of California San Francisco