Understanding COVID-19 Booster Shot Recommendations – University of Utah Health Care

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Nov 01, 2021 1:30 PM

There is a lot of information in the news right now about COVID-19 booster shots. We want to clear up misconceptions and confusion around these shots and discuss why public health officials are recommending them now. We’ll also talk about who should get a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine for better protection against an infection.

Understanding COVID-19 Booster Shots

A “booster shot” is not something unique to COVID-19. In fact, booster shots are common for many of the vaccines that doctors and health officials recommend for everyone. The most common booster shots people get are annual flu vaccines and boosters for Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) every 10 years.

Similar to the rationale behind giving boosters for those illnesses, COVID-19 booster shots can help your body maintain a higher level of immunity and protection against breakthrough COVID-19 infections. A breakthrough infection occurs when someone who is fully vaccinated gets COVID-19. That person can still get sick—although most vaccinated people will have milder symptoms—and they can spread COVID-19 to others. 

Who Is Eligible for COVID-19 Booster Shots?

Booster vaccines are available right now, but at this time, the CDC is not recommending them for everyone. Eligible individuals may “mix and match” the vaccines, meaning they may choose any of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. to receive as a booster dose.

Booster shots are recommended for people aged 18 and older who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

Certain groups may also get a booster shot if it has been at least six months or longer since their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. These include:

  • Adults 65 and older
  • Adults 18 and older who live in long-term care settings, such as a skilled nursing or assisted living facility, or residential housing for people with disabilities.
  • Adults 18 and older with underlying medical conditions that put you at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, such as cancer, diabetes, or a weakened immune system.
  • Adults 18 and older who work in a high-risk setting, such as first responders, educators, or grocery store workers.

Additional doses of vaccine are also recommended for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised because these individuals are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Technically, this dose is considered part of the primary vaccine series. It is not a booster dose since this shot helps people with these conditions to build the same level of immunity as a two-dose vaccine series.

The Rationale for COVID-19 Booster Doses

On September 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first set of guidelines on who may get a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This came after public health officials looked at data from other countries where people got a booster dose several months after their primary vaccine series. 

  • The most extensive study on COVID-19 booster shots came from Israel, where the government administered a booster shot to almost all adults. Researchers evaluated 1.1 million people over the age of 60 who got a booster. After 12 days, those people were almost 20 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 and have severe symptoms than people who did not get a booster shot.
  • Currently available data suggests that immunity against COVID-19 goes down over time, and a booster shot can help your body stay protected longer.

Q&A on COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

What if I’m not in one of the recommended groups but I want a COVID-19 booster shot?

Anyone who is not in the recommended groups for booster shots should talk to their doctor to discuss options.

Is it safe to get a COVID-19 booster shot and a flu vaccine at the same time?

Both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster vaccines are approved by the FDA. There is no evidence that it is risky to get both shots together, so if you need a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster, you can get both at the same time.

How important is it to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC guidance says that everyone who is in the high-risk groups should get one, which is stronger than just a recommendation. That is especially true because the Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of the virus.

If I’m experiencing long COVID symptoms, do I need a booster shot?

There is some evidence that the immune protection that develops after getting a COVID-19 infection may not last as long as immunity after full vaccination. Getting a booster shot, even if you are still experiencing “long-hauler” symptoms, can be helpful. You may want to consult with your doctor.

Is it true that someone treated with monoclonal antibodies shouldn’t get a booster?

Monoclonal antibody treatments are effective for people within the first 10 days of being infected with COVID-19. If you were treated with this therapy, you should wait at least 90 days before getting a COVID-19 booster shot. Otherwise, the treatment might interfere with the vaccine and keep it from doing its job to build up immunity in your body to future COVID-19 infections.

How can I get a booster shot?

The good news is that it’s very easy to get a booster shot. You can make an appointment at your local county health department or find a pharmacy nearby that has doses available by visiting www.vaccines.gov. Many pharmacies also take walk-ins. Don’t forget to take your vaccine card with you.

You can find more information about COVID-19 booster shots and older adults from our physicians at U of U Health by watching a video of our Facebook Live broadcast.

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