Even after you received your initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was already talk of a potential booster shot down the line. Fast forward just a couple of months later and COVID booster shots are making headlines, but you’re more confused than ever. Should you get one? What does the booster shot actually do? We reached out to the experts to answer all our burning questions.
What does the COVID booster shot do?
“In the months after a COVID-19 infection or vaccination, the antibody response that occurs when exposed to the virus can eventually wane over time,” explains Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director of infection control at AdventHealth. “Because of this waning immunity, booster shots are designed to reactivate and reprime the immune system so that if another infection were to occur, the antibodies would be able to recognize it and fight the infection.”
In other words, a booster shot is an additional dose of the vaccine that is designed to prolong immunity.
Wait, so does that mean that my vaccine isn’t effective anymore?
Wrong! The three vaccines currently available in the U.S. (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson-Janssen) are still highly effective in protecting you against getting COVID-19 disease. While it is possible to still get infected with the virus, those who are vaccinated have a much lower rate of infection than those who are not vaccinated, as well as a significantly lower rate of hospitalizations and death. How much lower? Per the CDC, unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated.
Got it. So who should get a COVID booster shot?
The FDA along with the CDC has recommended booster shots for certain populations. Per their recommendations, Pfizer boosters are currently available to people over age 65, residents of long-term care facilities, people ages 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions and those who have an increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of where they live or work (like hospitals, schools, prisons or homeless shelters).
When it comes to underlying medical conditions, examples include diabetes, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, HIV, those with weakened immune systems and chronic disease of the kidneys, liver, heart or lungs, Dr. Hsu tells us.
It’s important to note that boosters can only be given to people who completed their primary series of vaccination at least six months prior.
Is the COVID booster shot the same as the first shot?
The third dose of the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is identical to the first two, says Dr. Erika Schwartz, M.D. and founder of Evolved Science. “Boosters are essentially another dose of the same shot you received in your primary series and do not consist of any new ingredients,” adds Dr. Hsu. The CDC is recommending that those with certain medical conditions that suppress the immune system get a third dose of the same brand of COVID-19 vaccine that they initially received.
Is there a booster shot for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine?
Currently, the only boosters that are authorized by the FDA are from Pfizer. “For people who received Moderna for their primary series, the CDC recommends that they stick to Moderna for their booster,” says Dr. Hsu. “The dosage amount of the Moderna booster is still being determined and may be different than the primary series. It is expected that the FDA will have a decision on Moderna boosters within the next several weeks.”
What if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
“Currently, the booster shot is not yet available for Johnson & Johnson but early studies have revealed that two doses of the J&J provide 94 percent protection,” says Dr. Schwartz.
What if you’re still not sure if you should get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine?
If you are unsure about whether you have a health condition or treatment that affects your immune system or if you should get a COVID booster shot, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider who can help determine if you would benefit from a booster shot.
One more thing…
“Even as boosters become available for some groups, getting people vaccinated who haven’t yet received their primary series is still the most important thing we can do to protect our communities,” stresses Dr. Hsu.