Kathy Horne receives the Covid-19 vaccine in February at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville. Melissa Sue Gerrits/ Carolina Public Press

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Nearly a quarter of North Carolinians who have been fully vaccinated have received a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved booster shots for those over age 18. Anyone who took a two-course mRNA vaccination, either Moderna or Pfizer, is eligible for a booster six months after their second shot. Those who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccination can get a booster two months after their initial shot.

The immunity to COVID-19 conferred by the vaccine wanes over time, but a new study from Northwestern University shows a booster may give the highest level of antibodies, even more than natural immunity from infection in combination with initial doses. 

“I encourage all adults to get their COVID-19 booster for safer holiday gatherings with loved ones,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a press release. 

“With the recent authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11, now nearly everyone in the family can be vaccinated or boosted. Don’t wait to vaccinate.”

People with weakened immune systems — such as people fighting cancer or chronic kidney, liver or lung diseases — need an additional dose to build immunity against COVID-19. Immunocompromised people have been eligible to receive an additional dose of the same vaccine 28 days after their second shot, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Federal agencies began recommending additional doses for immunocompromised people starting Aug. 13. As of Nov. 22, 5.9 million state residents were fully vaccinated, either with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, according to NCDHHS.

Of those, 1.3 million North Carolinians had received an extra shot by the same date, according to a DHHS spokeswoman.

Nationwide, nearly 37.5 million people have received an extra shot, or 1-in-5 of those who are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

The boosters may stunt the spread of the virus, which has overwhelmed hospitals across the nation. In recent months, cases have climbed among children, who can suffer from a rare but serious condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, which can cause heart or other organ problems that require a doctor’s care.

So far, 247 cases of MIS-C have been reported in North Carolina, according to DHHS. 

North Carolina’s positivity rate — the percentage of positive tests compared to all tests — has crept up from a low of 3.7% two weeks ago to 7.5% on Nov. 23.

The risk for unvaccinated people is high. Unvaccinated people are 25 times more likely to die after getting COVID-19 than those who have been vaccinated, according to DHHS’ respiratory surveillance report. While 3-in-4 state residents have been vaccinated, more than 85% of those who have ended up in the state’s intensive care units have been unvaccinated.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.