RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For the past year, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has meant getting two shots of the two-dose vaccines or one shot of Johnson & Johnson.

But with studies showing people getting that many doses aren’t nearly as protected against the omicron variant as those who get one more shot.

So should the definition of “fully vaccinated” change to include only those people getting booster shots?

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, expects it to happen — but not until 2022 at the earliest.

The governor of New York said last week that she is planning to introduce legislation that would redefine full vaccination in that way.

“That is something that the CDC, I know, is already looking at, as we better understand this virus,. understand what that means for the effectiveness of our protection from vaccines that that may be something that will change, and I expect it to over time,” she said Monday. “It’s not there yet, but we don’t want to wait for that definition to change. We want folks to get boosted right now.”

It goes beyond wordplay or semantics, and could mean the difference in going or not going to work or school, or being able to travel.

For example, Duke University changed its definition Monday, saying that when the semester break ends next month, all eligible students, faculty and staff will have to get a booster dose. That came after six cases of the omicron variant were detected in Durham County.

And it would be another way to emphasize just how important those boosters are.

Dr. Peyton Thompson, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, called the idea of redefining full vaccination “a good question” and pointed to studies out of South Africa that show “that it’s really that third shot that offers us the protection against omicron.”

She called the early booster rollout “wishy-washy” and uncertain, but said, “now it’s very clear, and I think that we need better public health messaging towards getting boosters and getting that third shot.”

What would such a change do to our numbers in North Carolina?

Currently, 69 percent of the state’s adults — or, about 5.6 million of them — are considered fully vaccinated.

About 4.5 million of them are eligible for a booster — roughly 4 million had their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by June 20, and another 400,000 got their single shot of Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Oct. 20. But of them, only 2 million — roughly 45 percent — have actually gotten a booster.

“Boosters are very important now as we enter what could be a significant winter surge in cases,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International.

Thompson says the immunocompromised should go beyond the three doses and get a fourth shot of vaccine.

“So they get the first two doses, and they get to a secondary sort of primer dose,” she said. “That’s their third dose before they get their booster later on.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.