I Missed My Second COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment. What Happens Now?

A nurse prepares the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
A nurse prepares the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as a popup on March 10, 2021 for a public housing project targeting vulnerable communities in Los Angeles, California. Credit - Frederic J. Brown - AFP / Getty Images
Welcome to COVID Questions, TIME's advice column. We're trying to make life a little easier in the pandemic by providing expert-assisted answers to your toughest coronavirus-related issues. While we cannot and cannot offer medical advice - these questions should go to your doctor - we hope this column helps you through this stressful and confusing time. Do you have a question? Write to us at covidquestions@time.com.
Today is W.S. in Florida asks:
I got my first Pfizer vaccine in January. Is it too late now, more than two months later, to have the second injection? What should I do?
The second dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine should ideally be given three weeks after the first. (The second dose of Moderna is supposed to be given four weeks after the first, while the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen shot is given in a single dose.) But sometimes life gets in the way. So what if you can't make it to that second appointment?
Schedule another one as soon as possible, says Dr. Adam Ratner, a pediatric infectious disease physician at NYU Langone Health and vaccine researcher.
While a three or four week break between admissions is ideal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can get your second admission within 42 days of the first and still develop a full immune response . "In addition, we are working in an area where there is simply less data," says Ratner.
That doesn't mean your second shot will be ineffective if given more than six weeks after the first. This just means that studies have not specifically measured how much protection the two-dose vaccines provide when the shots are given more than 42 days apart. However, according to the CDC, if you can't get a second vaccine in 42 days, you don't have to start over. Countries like the UK are even deliberately delaying the second shots so they can deliver the first doses to more people, and some experts in the US are advocating the same policy.
Ratner says if he was in your shoes he wouldn't worry too much. "I would say get the second dose now and consider yourself fully vaccinated," he says. Just make sure you get a second dose of the same vaccine as the CDC does not recommend mixing and combining different vaccinations.
It may be tempting to stick to just the one dose you were given - after all, a recent study showed that a single dose of the vaccine was about 80% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, compared to 90% protection after two doses. But "it's a little weak 80%," said the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, at a recent press conference. "If you leave it at one dose, the question is, 'How long does it take? "
To get the full benefit of the vaccine and make sure it lasts as long as possible, you'll need a second shot.
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