When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for certain people with compromised immune systems in mid-August and booster shots for some adults who received the Pfizer vaccine in September, it seemed inevitable that other fully vaccinated adults and children would soon be next in line. The FDA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently announced that time has come, and the national rollout for boosters has begun.
According to the CDC, it is now recommended that all fully vaccinated adults and kids ages 5 and older in the U.S. receive a booster dose. To be eligible for a booster, individuals must be age 5 or older and five months must have passed since they received the second dose of their original Moderna or Pfizer vaccine series or two months must have passed since receiving the single-dose J&J vaccine. At this time, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and recommended for those ages 5 to 17.
Prior to the identification of the new omicron variant, the agency had recommended that adults age 50 and older receive a booster shot, and that people ages 18 to 49 self-determine their risk for COVID-19 exposure and receive a booster if desired. However, out of an abundance of caution, all fully vaccinated people ages 5 and over are now urged to get the additional dose.
OK given to mix and match vaccines
Both the federal and state public health authorities will also allow booster recipients to mix and match the vaccines. Regardless of which vaccine was received initially, those eligible for a booster can receive a dose of any of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines if desired or necessary due to vaccine availability. However, at this time, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and recommended for those ages 5 to 17.
“The ability to mix and match vaccines will be a tremendous convenience, because that means you can boost with whatever you have available,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “It is safe to do so, and it seems to be effective.”
For all populations, the dosage of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson booster shots will remain the same as the original vaccine doses. However, the Moderna booster will contain half of the vaccine dose received in the first two shots.
“While the messaging around booster shots has been confusing for some members of the public, it’s important to recognize that our public health experts have taken the time to make careful decisions about COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Olulade says.
Why do we need a booster shot?
Booster vaccines are usually advised when the protection provided by some vaccines wears off over time or as different viruses circulate or mutate. Other vaccinations that require boosters or updated shots include the annual flu shot, the pneumonia vaccine, and the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.
While confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines’ ability to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death remains strong, concern has grown as the delta variant has led to increased COVID-19 infections, primarily in people who are not yet vaccinated. Additionally, a small number of vaccinated people have experienced breakthrough infections.
Such infections after vaccination are of greatest concern for people whose immune systems may not have mounted a robust response after receiving the first single- or double-dose COVID-19 vaccine due to advanced age, chronic illness or treatment for conditions such as cancer. This leaves them at increased risk for severe illness and hospitalization. Data also show that people who live in long-term care facilities may be at increased risk for breakthrough infections.
“Booster vaccines are a common medical necessity, and don’t mean that the original vaccines were not effective,” Dr. Olulade says. “We have seen proof of how very effective the COVID-19 vaccines are by studying the rate of hospitalizations and deaths, which are almost exclusively among people who are unvaccinated.”
How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine booster?
If you or a loved one is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, you can schedule an appointment at a county vaccination site through MyTurn or call 211 for help with scheduling. You can also go to any walk-in San Diego County vaccine location or make an appointment at participating local pharmacies. Sharp HealthCare offers three appointment-required vaccine sites in Chula Vista, Coronado and Grossmont.
It is not necessary to return to the location where you received your previous vaccine doses, though you should bring your vaccination card from the original location with you when receiving your booster shot.
As with the original doses of the vaccines, you may experience mild side effects after receiving a booster. Side effects can include soreness at the injection site, fatigue, body aches, fever and headaches.
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about receiving a booster or if you had an adverse reaction to earlier doses. If you have been treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibody or convalescent plasma in the last 90 days, your doctor can help you determine if a third dose is appropriate.
“While we are pleased to see an opportunity for increased protection for some of those who are already vaccinated, we are still very focused on encouraging everyone who is eligible, but not yet fully vaccinated, to get their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Olulade.
She adds, “This is our best option to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect others within the community who are not yet able to be vaccinated.”
Sharp HealthCare joins the CDC in encouraging everyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.
This story was updated in May 2022 to reflect the new qualifying age to receive the booster vaccine.