COVID-19 Booster Shots: What You Need To Know
COVID-19 vaccine appointments have been filling up in the Triad this week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opted to approve COVID-19 booster shots from all three manufacturers. The additional shots have been shown to boost immunity levels in at-risk populations. WFDD’s April Laissle has more on what you need to know about these boosters, and how to get one if you qualify.
Who qualifies for a booster?
It depends on which vaccine you initially got. If you received an mRNA vaccine at least six months ago, you’re eligible for a booster if you are over the age of 65.
If you are 18 or older but not quite 65, you qualify if you:
- Work in a setting where you’re exposed to many people, like public transportation
- Live in a congregate setting, including college dorms
- Or have a medical condition that puts you at a higher risk for severe illness. Many conditions fall into this category, including obesity, high blood pressure, and even depression.
It’s a different story if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. J&J recipients are eligible if they were vaccinated at least two months ago. That’s the only requirement.
Now that all three options are approved, which one should individuals get?
The CDC is allowing people to get whichever booster they want, regardless of which vaccine they got initially. Its guidance on this is pretty thin. In its press release about this, it said “Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster." That’s it. In that release, the CDC didn’t explain why someone might have a preference, or whether there are any advantages to mixing and matching.
So I talked to a few experts about this to find out more. They told me that studies have shown that it’s safe to mix and match vaccines, and in some circumstances, it might boost your immunity even further than sticking with your original brand.
The mix-and-match benefit seems like it’s particularly significant for those who initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Studies done both in the U.S. and in Europe have shown that immune response was greater when J&J recipients got a booster of an mRNA vaccine. One study even showed a Moderna booster triggered a 76-fold increase in antibodies, versus a four-fold increase with J&J.
Some people may elect to stay with J&J because they had minimal side effects the first time around, or because they have an allergy to an ingredient in an mRNA vaccine. Experts say that’s fine too because any kind of booster is safe and will increase your immunity levels.
All the experts I spoke to emphasized that talking to your health care provider is the best way to navigate this question.
If someone wants a booster, where can they get one?
Forsyth and Guilford County’s public health departments are both offering booster shots and allowing people to pick the vaccine they want. CVS is doing the same thing. Walgreens is also offering boosters, but it is asking recipients to stick with their original vaccine brand. You can find other vaccine providers using the state health department’s online Find a Booster Vaccine Location tool.
It should be much easier to get a booster shot this time around than it was when the vaccines initially rolled out last winter. Most providers have same-day appointments available, and websites appear to be handling traffic pretty well.
How should people prepare for their shot?
Finding your old vaccine card would be helpful, but you won’t need to bring it in to get a booster. The state health department says you’ll just need to know the dates of your vaccination and the brand you initially received.
Also, prepare for some relatively mild side effects. Joshua Swift with the Forsyth County Public Health Department says side effects for boosters are similar to side effects from previous doses — sore arm, fatigue, and headache.