Why is a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine needed and who should get it?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 and older. Helmut Albrecht, MD, explained why this dose is needed and who should get it.
Why is another dose needed?
The delta variant has changed just enough from the original virus to penetrate some of the protection of the vaccine. Also, protection starts to lessen over time and as new strains of the disease appear.
“The vaccine companies are finding that a booster dose administered six months after the initial vaccination can dramatically increase the amount of circulating antibodies,” said Dr. Albrecht. “This booster dose will provide protection but not complete immunity.”
He said the vaccine is still extremely effective against severe disease, hospitalization and death.
But the goal is also to reduce breakthrough infections, because decreasing the amount of infection also decreases the number of mutations and variants.
Who can receive a booster shot?
The CDC recommends the following:
- Anyone 18 and older can get a booster shot (16 for Pfizer).
- Those eligible for a Pfizer or Moderna booster can receive it six months after their second dose.
- Those eligible for a Johnson & Johnson booster can receive it two months after immunization.
What’s the difference between a booster shot and a third dose?
A booster shot is for those whose immunity may wane over time or who may need protection against a new virus strain. A COVID-19 booster shot is given at least six months after completing the “primary series” (two doses) of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
A third dose is for those who are immunocompromised and may not have received sufficient protection from the first two doses. Those age 12 and older who received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible to receive a third dose at least 28 days after their second dose. Those age 18 and older who received the Moderna vaccine may get a third dose 28 days after their second dose. It is preferred that patients receive a booster with the same vaccine they initially received, but there is good data that it is effective to use another vaccine for boosting if the original vaccine is in short supply and cannot be found.
Will a prescription or doctor’s order be needed to get a booster or third dose?
No order or prescription is needed. The person seeking a booster or third dose confirms that he or she is eligible to receive it.
Can I get a booster/third dose and the flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes. The shots are given in separate arms, but you can take both vaccines at the same visit.
Will we need additional boosters later?
Dr. Albrecht said it depends on how the virus evolves.
“I personally think the mRNA vaccines are three-shot vaccines. The current boosters are essentially identical to the first two shots. That may be different in the future if we need boosters for variants, but it’s probably too early to tell. If people get vaccinated and the infection number goes dramatically down and stays down, we probably won’t need many additional boosters. But so far, many people still haven’t received the first shot, and the first shot is much more important than the third shot.”
Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Find answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how to get the shot.