UPDATE: According to the CDC, everyone over 18 years old should receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster.
You may have heard that COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now available throughout the United States. Who is eligible? Should you or your loved ones sign up to get the shot?
With the pandemic entering its second winter season, Solv created this resource to answer important questions and empower you with important facts. Remember that the pandemic isn’t over — but there’s still a chance that we’ll defeat the virus by prioritizing our health.
Pandemic outlook for winter 2021
The general trend is that new cases and hospitalizations are declining overall due to the success of vaccination efforts.
However, cold weather means that respiratory illnesses are more likely to spread. One simple reason is that during the winter, people spend more time indoors in confined spaces. As a result, the combination of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu poses a potential “double threat” to otherwise healthy people.
Even though we’re not out of the woods, there’s hope.
According to a consortium of researchers advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of four possible scenarios for this winter projects that COVID cases and death counts drop steadily through March 2022. One hypothesis for this trend is that better-case scenarios will take place in regions with high vaccination rates where worse-case scenarios will occur in regions where vaccination rates are low.
There’s a powerful takeaway from the research above:
Unlike last winter, we have a lot more control over our health as Americans. We are lucky to have vaccines and boosters available, especially when the rest of the world is experiencing a surge from the Delta variant. It is also important to remember that the virus may continue to mutate.
We can’t predict the future. But we do know that following public health measures is the best way to stay protected.
What’s the latest news about COVID-19 boosters?
In late October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed off on COVID-19 booster shots for certain populations who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines. This update follows the FDA announcement in late September authorizing a booster dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
What is a COVID-19 booster?
A COVID-19 booster is an additional dose of the vaccine. It helps people maintain immunity longer, after protections from the original shots have decreased. It is administered to people with compromised immune systems.
Who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster?
In the United States, currently only certain people (see guidelines below) who are fully vaccinated from the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen series are eligible for boosters. Here is an easy-to-scan breakdown of information, with more detail being available on the CDC website.
Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna
According to the CDC at the time of this writing everyone 18 years or older should receive a COVID-19 booster shot at least 6 months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series.
Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)
According to the CDC at the time of this writing everyone 18 years or older should receive a COVID-19 booster shot at least 2 months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series. The J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has lower vaccine effectiveness over time compared to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna).
Does the additional COVID-19 vaccine booster need to come from the original vaccine series that I received?
The FDA has determined that it is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster that is different from the initial dose(s). You may have heard of this as the “mix and match.”
What if I can’t remember the original vaccine series that I received?
At your first vaccination appointment, you should have received a CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card with documentation around the vaccine you received and where you received it. Be sure to bring this vaccine card to your booster appointment.
If you misplaced your card or did not receive one, contact the vaccination site where you received your first dose or your state health department to obtain a replacement.
When should I receive a booster?
According to the CDC current guidelines, if you received vaccines from the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna series, you should plan to get a booster six months after your second dose. In some cases, people with a qualifying medical condition may receive a booster sooner, as soon as 28 days after the second dose. According to Hopkins Medicine, these individuals include those who:
- Have been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
- Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years, or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
- Are diagnosed with HIV and have a high viral load or low CD4 count, or are not currently taking medication to treat HIV
- Are taking drugs like high-dose steroids or other medications that may cause severe suppression of the immune system
All adults who received a J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at least 2 months ago should get a booster shot due to the lowered efficacy of the vaccine over time.
Why did it take an extra month to authorize the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines?
Given that the situation is new and unfolding in real time, the FDA and CDC are reviewing scientific studies closely to make their best judgment calls for the American public. Based on available information, the FDA and CDC currently recommend that only certain groups receive vaccine boosters.
Guidelines and best practices will continue to evolve as the scientific and healthcare communities learn more about the COVID-19 virus and how to best protect people from the pandemic.
In short, scientists were debating whether a third vaccine dose was the best possible public health decision. This debate is necessary for the best interests, safety, and wellbeing of the American public. The question that the FDA and CDC, among other health officials, are navigating is whether the COVID-19 booster is “widely needed.”
It’s important for us all to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is a situation unlike any other that has existed in most scientists’ careers and lifetimes.
Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine booster and flu shot at the same time?
According to the CDC, the short answer is yes, you can get a flu shot along with your COVID-19 dose at the same time, regardless of whether it is the first, second, or third shot in the series.
While current data is limited, the CDC says possible side effects are generally similar regardless of whether the vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines.
The CDC has published more information here.
What are the risks and side effects to expect?
- Side effects generally kick in on the day after the injection
- 28% of people said that they were unable to perform normal activities because of side effects
- Effects were generally considered mild to moderate
The CDC maintains a morbidity and mortality weekly report with continuous updates regarding symptoms. Scientists are monitoring risks and side effects for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).
Where are boosters available?
If you’re established with a care provider or family physician, you’ll want to check there first. Your care team knows your situation best due to having access to your medical record.
Solv has also published a vaccine directory and comprehensive resource guide to help you make your best decision.
Remember — you’re doing a great job navigating a tough time. As the saying goes, the only way forward is through.
Your family’s health is precious, so it’s important to focus on getting the answers that you need, rather than wasting your time becoming lost in confusion. It’s a good idea to establish a line of communication with your physician.
Some hospitals and care practices also have email lists and alerts to share updates with their patient communities. It’s a good idea to sign up for these newsletters — be sure to ask if you’re not sure whether one is available.
No matter your medical situation, you are entitled to a consultation with your healthcare team.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- COVID Cases Falling, but Trouble Signs Arise as Winter Looms (October 25, 2021)
- U.S. COVID-19 cases falling, but trouble signs arise as winter looms (October 25, 2021)
- Coronavirus and the Flu: A Looming Double Threat (September 6, 2020)
- Is The Worst Over? Models Predict A Steady Decline In COVID Cases Through March (September 22, 2021)
- Covid-19 in the US: Bleak winter ahead as deaths surge (December 12, 2020)
- Two cases of delta plus variant — under close watch in the U.K. — confirmed in Alberta (October 29, 2021)
- COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots (October 27, 2021)
- FDA Authorizes Booster Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Certain Populations (September 22, 2021)
- Booster Shots and Third Doses for COVID-19 Vaccines: What You Need to Know (October 27, 2021)
- People with Certain Medical Conditions (October 14, 2021)
- Why the CDC and FDA only approved booster shots for some Americans (September 23, 2021) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/why-you-may-not-need-a-covid-19-booster-after-all
- Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2021-2022 Season (October 25, 2021) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2021-2022.htm#coadmin
- The most common side effects to expect after your Pfizer booster: headache, fatigue, and pain at the injection site (September 24, 2021) https://www.businessinsider.com/pfizer-covid-booster-shot-side-effects-most-common-2021-9
- Covid booster shot's side effects similar to 2nd vaccine dose, CDC study finds (September 29, 2021)
- Safety Monitoring of an Additional Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, August 12–September 19, 2021 (September 28, 2021)
- COVID Vaccine Near Me (October 28, 2021)