COVID-19 Q&A: Booster doses of the vaccines

Who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster dose today?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommended booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for certain people in late September.

Those eligible for a single booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are those who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months earlier and who fall into one of these categories:

  • People ages 65 years and older
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • People ages 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • People ages 18-49 with underlying medical conditions, based on individual benefit and risk
  • People ages 18-64 at an increased risk of exposure and transmission due to the type of work they do (including teachers and healthcare workers) or because they live or work in an institutional setting

When will those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines become eligible for a booster dose?  

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) met last week to discuss the use of booster doses of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine. The committee voted to recommend an Emergency Use Authorization for booster doses for both Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

More details will be available when the FDA takes action on the recommendation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues a recommendation, which may happen this week.

If a booster shot is needed, does that mean the vaccines aren’t working?

No. COVID-19 vaccines are working well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. However, public health experts are starting to see reduced protection, especially among certain populations, against mild and moderate disease.

What are the risks to getting a booster shot?

So far, reactions after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot were similar to that of the two-shot primary series. Fatigue and pain at the injection site were the most commonly reported side effects, and overall, most side effects were mild to moderate. However, as with the two-shot primary series, serious side effects are rare, but may occur.

Am I still considered “fully vaccinated” if I don’t get a booster shot?

Yes. Everyone is still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-shot series, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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