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Getting Another Shot: COVID-19 Boosters Explained

A nurse bandages an older man's arm, after he receives a booster vaccination shot

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving rapidly, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing new updates almost daily.

Despite massive vaccination efforts, tens of thousands of new infections are still happening in the U.S. every day, especially with the highly contagious Delta variant. Although the rates are highest among those who are unvaccinated, vaccinated people are getting infected as well, although far less frequently and with much less severity.

There is evidence that protection from specific COVID-19 vaccines may decrease over time. Therefore, the CDC is recommending booster shots to provide vaccinated people with increased protection.

Let’s look at what a booster is, how it’s different from an initial vaccination, and when the CDC recommends people get a COVID-19 vaccine booster.

What Is a Booster?

For centuries, vaccines have made a huge impact in the fight against many diseases that otherwise would have posed significant public health threats. Thanks to science and the development of disease-preventing vaccines, smallpox infection has been eliminated worldwide and polio is nearly eradicated. Measles, tetanus, and diphtheria are much less prevalent, and flu vaccines have prevented many thousands of deaths.

While vaccines do offer powerful protection against diseases, no vaccine is 100% effective. That’s because our immune systems are as different from one person to another as any other physical trait.

And our immunity after vaccination naturally tends to wane, or weaken, with the passage of time. This fading response happens with all vaccines. It’s normal and expected, and that’s exactly why booster shots are given: to “boost” the immunity of people who were vaccinated previously.

Why Would Someone Need a COVID-19 Booster?

For most fully vaccinated people, COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide strong protection when it comes to preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

However, the risk for both infection and serious illness may increase over time despite having received a previous vaccination series against COVID-19.

Adults over the age of 50, people with weakened immune systems, and people whose living or working conditions expose them to a high level of infection risk would benefit most from having the strongest possible protection through a vaccination booster.

Who Is Eligible for a COVID-19 Booster Shot?

At this time, the CDC has issued the following eligibility guidelines.

If you previously received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, it’s recommended that you get a booster if you are:

  • Age 50+
  • Age 18+ and living in a long-term care setting

For these people, the CDC recommends getting a booster at least 6 months after their second shot.

Anyone age 18+ who previously received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is recommended to receive a booster at least 2 months after their shot.

However, all fully vaccinated individuals may now receive a booster. And anyone may receive a booster in the form of any COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the United States, regardless of which vaccine they received previously.

Since the management of the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, please see the following resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the latest updates:

Please note: Federal and state authorities have confirmed there will be enough vaccines to give every eligible person in the United States a booster shot — as well as enough to vaccinate children aged 5 – 11, who have now also been authorized to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. So do not hesitate … Get your booster dose today!

If You Haven’t Been Fully Vaccinated yet…

… please get vaccinated!

Unvaccinated people are over ten times more likely to be hospitalized — and 11 times more likely to die — than vaccinated people, especially given the incredibly contagious Delta variant.

Like measles, mumps, and rubella, COVID-19 is a vaccine-preventable disease. Although vaccinated people can still get infected with COVID-19, the vaccines are highly effective at preventing the worst impacts of infection: serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And that’s what’s most important.

And if You’ve Already Had COVID-19…

…You should still get vaccinated! The immunity that vaccination provides is much more robust than the immunity you get from fighting off a COVID-19 infection. And in fact, previously infected people who are unvaccinated are more than twice as likely to catch COVID-19 again than those who are fully vaccinated.

As CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky “Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”

Please everyone, take care and be safe.

Dr. Dolores Roman

About Dr. Dolores Roman

Dr. Dolores Roman joined Independence Blue Cross in 2019. As a 20-year veteran of emergency rooms in and around the Philadelphia area, Dr. Roman has dealt with every kind of emergency. Now as a medical director at Independence, Dr. Roman is involved in utilization management, case management, and quality improvement. What Dr. Roman loves most about this job is the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in order to enhance the health and well-being of those served by Independence Blue Cross.