Does It Matter if I Skip My Second Covid Shot?

Your second dose of vaccine gives you more extra protection than you might think. Here’s why you should still get it, even if it’s later than planned.

By Tara Parker-Pope

Millions of people have missed their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine. But does it really matter?

Yes. Public health officials say that if you’re getting a two-dose vaccine, you should complete both doses for the strongest protection against Covid-19, especially with new variants circulating the globe. From a practical standpoint, missing the second shot could create problems down the road if workplaces, college campuses, airlines and border patrol agents require proof of full vaccination.

But many people aren’t getting the message that the second dose matters. More than five million people, or nearly 8 percent of those who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, have missed their second doses, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reasons people are missing their second shots vary. Some people say they are worried about side effects, which have widely been reported to be worse after the second dose. Others say second shot appointments have been canceled, and it’s been hard to reschedule. But new research also shows that many people are just confused and wrongly think one shot is enough.

Researchers from Cornell University and Boston Children’s Hospital surveyed a representative sample of more than 1,000 Americans in February, and found that 20 percent believed they were strongly protected after just one dose of a two-dose vaccine. (Another 36 percent said they weren’t sure how protected they were.) And among those respondents who had already received at least one shot, 15 percent didn’t remember being told to come back for a second dose. About half didn’t remember anyone telling them that protection was strongest after the second dose, according to the report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our survey exposed the fact that there is still a lot of confusion about the timing of protection when it comes to getting vaccinated,” said John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and a co-author on the research.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that some countries are delaying second doses so they can get more people vaccinated more quickly or because they have limited supply of vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are what’s known as mRNA vaccines and require two shots, ideally spaced three or four weeks apart. But in some countries, including Britain and Canada, second shots have been delayed by as long as three or four months. While that strategy has worked for countries facing distribution problems or vaccine shortages, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly resisted calls to adopt a one-dose strategy in the United States.

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