COVID-19 booster doses have been the subject of a lot of recent press, and it’s been more perplexing than reassuring.
Public health experts aren’t sure whether everyone needs a booster, so boosters are being given to certain people first, just as vaccines were given to certain groups of people one at a time as government organizations examined research to ensure they were safe and effective. For the time being, this is where we stand.
If the vaccines work, why do I need a booster?
The three COVID-19 vaccinations now available in the United States—from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson&Johnson-Janssen—remain very successful in preventing disease. They are slightly less effective at preventing you from becoming infected with the virus in the first place, but people who have been vaccinated have a five-fold lower rate of infection with SARS-CoV-2 and a more than 10-fold lower rate of hospitalizations and deaths from the Delta variant of the virus than people who have not been vaccinated.
The level of antibodies against the COVID-19 virus begins to diminish several months after receiving the vaccine, therefore public health professionals believe it is reasonable to enhance those numbers with another injection of the vaccine. There’s evidence that as you get more shots, your body begins to produce higher-quality antibodies that are better at recognizing and blocking new viral types, including Delta.
Who is eligible for a booster shot right now?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved booster shots in August for anyone who has been vaccinated against COVID-19 with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines and has a compromised immune system as a result of chronic illnesses, transplant surgery, or cancer treatment, among other things.
That suggestion was expanded to include specific persons who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination as of September 2021. People who were previously vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should get a booster six months after their last injection, according to the FDA and CDC.
- They are over age 65 years or live in a long term care facility
- They are over age 50 years and have an underlying health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity
Others who had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination but did not receive a booster were also included, according to the FDA and CDC. If they want, the following people can acquire a booster:
- People who are 18- to 49 years old and have an underlying health condition
- People who are 18-64 years old who work or live in a setting that puts them at high risk of getting exposed to COVID-19, such as hospitals, long term care facilities, grocery stores, prisons and homeless shelters
After reviewing studies from Pfizer-BioNTech on the safety and efficacy of a booster dosage among a larger sample of persons who had the allowed two doses of the injection and then received another dose at least six months later, the FDA and CDC made these decisions. Data from Israel was also examined, where some people have been receiving booster doses since July 30.
These findings demonstrated that levels of virus-fighting antibodies begin to decline after several months, but that persons are still protected from developing severe COVID-19 sickness and being hospitalized.
Researchers from Pfizer-BioNTech revealed that the additional dose is safe and can elevate antibody levels back up to those attained immediately after the second treatment, particularly among persons over 65 years old, in a trial of several hundred patients who got a booster dose. According to Israeli health officials, older people who received a booster dosage were 11 times less likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 and 19.5 times less likely to develop severe COVID-19 than those who received only two doses.
If I’ve been vaccinated with Moderna or Johnson&Johnson-Janssen, can I get a booster?
No, not just now. Only the safety and efficacy of boosters utilizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been examined by the FDA and the CDC. The FDA has received Moderna’s data for assessment, and the agency is likely to make a recommendation in the coming weeks. Although the companies have reported early data showing that a second shot can increase antibody levels by nine-fold in people ages 18 to 55 years compared to after the initial single dose, Johnson&Johnson-Janssen, which makes the only authorized single-shot COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, has not yet provided the FDA with data on its booster.
Why are decisions about Moderna and Johnson&Johnson-Janssen boosters taking longer?
The booster doses follow the same schedule as the original immunizations. Pfizer-BioNTech was the first to submit a request to the FDA for vaccination approval in November 2020, followed by Moderna about ten days later, and J&J in February 2021.
On a similar timeframe, the FDA granted emergency use authorisation to all of them, based on two-month follow-up data indicating that the shots were both safe and effective. Pfizer-BioNTech was first, followed by Moderna, and finally J&J. (In August 2021, the FDA officially authorized the two-dose regimen of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the first licensed COVID-19 shot, after examining longer-term evidence on safety and efficacy that spanned six months.) Moderna has also given the FDA with lengthier follow-up data and is awaiting the agency’s final decision on complete approval.)
To gain approval for a booster, each vaccine producer had to do further studies on the safety and efficacy of an additional dose, as well as follow participants in those studies for several months to document any side effects and immunity effects.
Is the Pfizer-BioNTech booster a different vaccine from the original one?
No, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination booster shot has the same dose and vaccine as the first two doses.
Will the Moderna booster follow Pfizer-BioNTech’s model and be another dose of the same Moderna vaccine?
Moderna is currently testing multiple forms of a booster, so the answer isn’t apparent yet. The company is testing a booster that is half the dose of the initial two doses, one that is the same dose as the original two doses, another that is a separate vaccine that targets the Beta version, and lastly one that combines the original and Beta variant boosters in an one shot. Based on the findings of those tests, Moderna and the FDA will determine which booster will assist the most people stay protected against COVID-19.
I’ve heard that people who received Moderna or Johnson&Johnson-Janssen are getting booster shots.
It’s conceivable, but it’s not advised, according to health officials. Researchers are still looking into how people react to mixing doses from different vaccine manufacturers, so it’s unclear whether or not this is a safe practice. Furthermore, there is no evidence that receiving a booster shot of a different vaccine will continue to protect you from COVID-19.
Will I have to provide proof that I was originally vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in order to get a booster?
Yes, technically, but according to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC is advising vaccine providers not to deny individuals doses, thus vaccinators are more likely to urge patients to self-attest that they are eligible rather than asking for evidence.
Vaccination places, on the other hand, will have various policies for determining eligibility. Walgreens, for example, claims they will ask individuals to attest that they satisfy the booster requirements when they book their appointment and again right before they get their shot, but pharmacists will not. A spokesman tells TIME, “Ultimately, we are focused on removing barriers and improving vaccine access.”
According to a UCLA Medical Center representative, clinicians can check patients’ electronic health records to see which vaccines they received if they were treated there. People who aren’t patients are asked to bring their immunization card to show that they received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
Providers are likely to require customers to self-attest that they received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot and that it has been at least six months since their last dose if they misplaced their card. In general, sites will not require proof that you are of a certain age, have a certain underlying health condition, or are exposed to an occupational danger.