COVID-19 Booster Shots for All: 6 Things You Need to Know
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved COVID-19 booster shots for all adults 16 years and older. Previously, only high-risk adult groups were eligible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster shot at least six months after the first two shots from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. They recommend waiting at least two months after Johnson & Johnson.
You can choose which booster shot you'd like to receive since the CDC allows any mix-and-match dosing for these shots. On this page, we answer more questions about the COVID-19 booster shots and how they might affect you.
Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 Booster Shots
The COVID-19 booster shots do not replace the initial vaccine shots. If you took the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you must complete the two-shot series and wait at least six months before receiving your first booster shot.
If you took the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you must wait at least two months for your first booster shot. The CDC recommends you weigh the benefits and risks of each shot and discuss with your healthcare provider which would be the most appropriate one for you.
Who Is Eligible for a COVID-19 Booster Shot?
The FDA approval made the booster shot available to all adults age 16 and older. While most states waited, seven states moved ahead of federal authorization to offer booster shots to all adult residents, including New York who was hit especially hard by the pandemic.
Some health experts have expressed concern that the boosters are being rolled out early. Instead, they suggest the critical strategy should be to ensure more have received their first shots.
If you had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to the first vaccine shots, the CDC recommends you get a booster from a different manufacturer.
People who have COVID-19 and received monoclonal antibody treatment must wait at least 90 days before getting a booster shot. This treatment injects proteins that mimic your immune response and may reduce the severity of your symptoms. However, the antibodies lower your ability to mount an immune response to the booster shot. Thus, it's essential to wait at least 90 days until the antibodies have cleared your system.
What Side Effects Should I Anticipate From the Booster?
You should expect the same side effects from the booster as you had after your first series. The CDC believes the booster currently outweighs any known or potential risks from receiving the vaccine. Some common side effects include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site.
You may also experience symptoms of an infection, including:
- Muscle pain
To treat, apply a cool, wet washcloth over the area where you got the shot and continue using or exercising the arm. Remember to drink plenty of water and dress lightly to reduce the discomfort associated with a fever.
The CDC says that your reaction after the second shot might have been more intense than after the first shot. The side effects after the booster shot are similar to those you experienced after your second shot. Some otherwise healthy adolescents have experienced myocarditis or pericarditis after the first two doses.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the tissue that lines the outside of the heart, also called the pericardial sac. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart pounding or fluttering
The condition is a rare disease in adults and children. Myocarditis is treatable, but in some cases, it leaves permanent damage to the heart.
If you have any side effects from the first two shots or the booster shot, the CDC recommends reporting these to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. This system has been recording adverse side effects for all vaccines since 1990.
OpenVAERS has a page dedicated to adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, so you don't have to search through other vaccine treatments.
Which Booster Shot Should I Get?
This is up to you and your primary care provider. At this time, no research tells which booster shot is best for your health. Currently, the CDC says it is acceptable to mix, so you may use Pfizer even if you received the first series from Moderna, for example.
In October 2021, data from a small study of 458 people showed that using the first series from one company and the booster from another may stimulate a neutralizing antibody response that, in theory, may improve your protection. However, the study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has not yet been peer reviewed.
The decision about which shot to use for your booster should be made between you and your healthcare professional. You will want to account for any past side effects from the first series and the availability of booster shots in your area.
Do I Have to Bring My Vaccination Card When I Get My Booster?
Yes. Your booster shot must be recorded on the vaccine card you were issued after your first series.
In the past, when you received vaccinations for travel or for your children, the shots became a part of the medical record. However, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout meant that the shots were given in outpatient clinics, pharmacies, and urgent care centers. The record of the shot you received, the date, and company may never reach your primary care physician and your medical record.
For this reason, you were issued a vaccine card with your vaccine information. Some people have been laminating it to reduce damage. However, since your booster shots must also be recorded on the card, it's best if you don't laminate it.
If you've lost your card: There are a couple of ways to get a replacement card and verify your vaccine status. Contact the place where you got your initial round of vaccines. The offices are required to record who received a shot, the date, and the shot they received. They should be able to get you a replacement card. Some even use an online verification system, which allows you to download a card from home.
Some states are creating personal QR codes that contain your vaccine status. Remember, the CDC does not have this information for individuals. So, if you lose your card, don't contact the CDC.
Do not forge a vaccine card. This is illegal and may come with a jail sentence. Once you have recovered your card, consider taking a photo of it and emailing it to yourself. This may help if you ever lose the card again.
Is There a Difference Between a Booster and COVID-19 Vaccine?
Yes and no. The answer to this question depends on the company issuing the vaccine or the booster shot. For example, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots are identical, so the booster shot is the same as the one given for the initial shots.
However, if you take the Moderna booster shot, it is half the dose of the first two shots. Currently, Moderna is working on a combination flu and COVID-19 shot, but it is not yet available.
Additionally, there is a difference between a booster shot and an additional dose. The booster shot is meant to be given after a person completes the first series. An additional dose is given to people not long after the first two shots if they have moderate to severely compromised immune systems. Your healthcare provider will help you determine if you need an additional dose.
The CDC does not consider you to be fully vaccinated until two weeks after your last dose in your first series. To date, they have not decided when you may be considered fully vaccinated after the booster shot.
What Are the Risks to Getting a Booster Shot?
The risks of getting the booster shot are nearly the same as getting the first series. In other words, if you had a significant reaction after the first series of shots, you should not choose the same vaccine manufacturer for your booster shot. Even if you choose another company, it may also be necessary to ensure you have someone available to monitor your health for the first 24 hours.
Feature Image: Mixetto / Getty Images
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