What You Should Know About the COVID Booster

With the recent news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved boosters for the three major COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — there have been a lot of questions. Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine booster? Am I eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster? Does it have to be from the same brand? Why do some people believe there is an ethical question about the boosters? While all the answers to the big booster questions haven’t been ironed out quite yet, we feel it’s important to begin an ongoing dialogue with our readers.

First and foremost, do we think it’s a good idea to get a booster? If you’re in one of the eligible categories and your doctor agrees you should get it, yes. Just like how it’s important to bolster your immunity each year with a flu shot, it’s important for at least the especially at-risk to get a booster until the pandemic is over (or each year from now on since there’s evidence that we may need an annual shot). The rest of the population may want a booster to further increase their immunity.

Needing a booster isn’t proof that the vaccines don’t work, as some people are claiming on social media. For the vast majority, the vaccines will do what they’re supposed to do, which is keep you from dying or needing the hospital while limiting your symptoms to the mild and manageable. Unless you have a weakened immune system, the vaccine can be exceedingly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID. With those important notes out of the way, let’s get to answering some of the other key questions.

Who Qualifies for a Booster

Similar to the initial rollout of the COVID vaccine, not everyone is eligible for the booster right away. Instead, only those deemed at a heightened risk of infection or severe symptoms/death are currently able to receive a booster. This is due to the ongoing protection of a full vaccination. (Seriously, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, we highly suggest it if your doctor agrees it’s safe for you). But, if you’re in a population that’s at an increased risk of severe or life-threatening infection from COVID or at an increased risk of catching COVID due to your living or working conditions, you are eligible to receive the added protection of a booster.

If you do fall into one of these categories, it’s important to remember that you should consider getting your booster.

As it stands, we are unsure when (or if) the general population will be eligible for boosters, due to a mix of concerns about necessity and ethics about more developed nations hoarding vaccinations while developing nations struggle with low vaccination rates and supplies.

Age

As we’ve mentioned many times before, our immune systems weaken naturally as we age. This is why people aged 65 and up were among the first to be approved to receive the initial vaccines, since they were at a heightened risk of severe or life-threatening COVID. For this reason, the CDC has made anyone over the age of 65 eligible to receive a booster.

The Immunocompromised

Similar to age, if you have a condition that compromises your immune system, you are eligible for the booster. Currently, there is a long list of conditions that can leave you vulnerable for severe COVID infection, ranging from being overweight to smoking to cancer. Colin Powell is a recent example of the dangers COVID can present even to the fully vaccinated. The former Secretary of State passed away in mid-October due to complications with COVID despite being fully vaccinated. What many headlines didn’t state was that General Powell was battling myeloma (a form of cancer in plasma cells) and Parkinson’s disease, both of which can severely increase your risk with COVID, even if fully vaccinated.

Living or Working Conditions

Finally, if you live or work in a situation that puts you at an increased risk of being exposed to COVID, you will likely be eligible for a booster. For living conditions, this generally falls into the categories of long-term care and nursing home residents since they present an increased risk of exposure by their nature (many residents, most high risk, living in close proximity). This is also true of residents of homeless shelters.

A good rule of thumb is that you’re likely eligible for the booster if you qualified for the initial vaccination because of your job.

Workers who are at an increased risk due to institutional or critical aspects of their jobs are also eligible. If you’re working with the sick, children (many of whom cannot be vaccinated yet), or the general public, you are likely eligible for the booster. There is a long and growing list of careers that qualify for the booster, such as teachers, front line workers, grocery store employees, firefighters, and police, to name a few. A good rule of thumb is that you’re likely eligible for the booster if you qualified for the initial vaccination because of your job.

Unless sourced from and linked to elsewhere, all data is directly from the CDC’s booster shot eligibility information.

The Different Types of Vaccine

The biggest difference between the different vaccines when it comes to boosters is in relation to when you receive the full dose of the initial vaccination. For both Moderna and Pfizer, at least six months must have passed after receiving the second shot of your vaccine before you can get the booster. On the other hand, you can get a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as long as two months have passed since you got your first dose. It’s important to note that, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna booster, any adult over the age of 18 who had their first Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago can get a second one.

For both Moderna and Pfizer, at least six months must have passed after receiving the second shot of your vaccine before you can get the booster.

The only other major difference between the boosters is that the Moderna vaccine is a half dose of the original vaccine, while the others are full doses. Moderna’s research pointed toward a half dose being enough to see a “42-fold rise in antibodies,” which should create a robust protective response for healthy individuals. Moderna also found that this smaller dosage caused fewer or more mild side effects while allowing them to produce more vaccines without affecting the protective response.

Mixing Vaccines

The other recent approval you’ve no doubt heard about is vaccine mixing. What does this mean for you? Essentially, this decision allows those eligible to receive boosters to get a vaccine from a different company. This will allow people to get the vaccine that’s most convenient for them. While it’s still suggested that you stick with your initial vaccination type (Moderna to Moderna, Pfizer to Pfizer, etc.), those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may want to consider one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) since recent evidence showed a stronger immune response. Either way, all boosters have been shown to be effective and safe.

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As we continue to try to get a handle on the pandemic, boosters are an important step to help those that are most at-risk keep their immune response strong!