Do You Need a COVID-19 Booster Shot?

By Alyse Thompson, M.D.

November 09, 2021

Covid Booster

COVID-19 booster shots have been approved for people at risk of developing severe disease symptoms due to decreasing immunity. Find out if you are in one of the recommended groups.

What Is a Booster Shot?

A booster shot is an additional vaccine injection designed to keep a person’s immunity at its highest level.

According to current data, the COVID-19 booster shot is necessary because immunity from the vaccine decreases over time, making it more difficult to defend ourselves against the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The Delta variant is highly contagious and is currently the most common strain of the virus found in the United States and many other countries.

Who Should Get a Booster?

People 65 years old and up and those with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that these people benefit most from a booster shot.

Also, some people do not develop a strong enough response to the two doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. A third dose is needed to boost the immune response to the optimal level.

The two-dose vaccine received full authorization to be administered to anyone 16 years old or older. In September, the FDA authorized a booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends this.

At this time, the CDC recommends that the following people receive a booster shot:

  • Anyone 65 years old and up
  • Anyone 18 years old and up who is living in a long-term care setting such as:
    • Nursing Homes
    • Homeless shelters
    • Correctional facilities
  • Anyone who is 18 to 64 with underlying medical issues such as:
    • Cancer
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Chronic lung disease
    • Diabetes (type 1 and 2)
    • Heart conditions (such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, or cardiomyopathy)
    • HIV
    • Immunocompromised individuals
    • Liver disease
    • Neurological disorders (such as dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease)
    • Obese and overweight individuals
    • Pregnant women
    • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
    • Smokers
    • Substance abuse disorders
    • Transplant recipients
  • Anyone who is 18 to 64 and works in a high-risk profession such as:
    • Healthcare workers
    • First responders (firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and paramedics)
    • Bus drivers or flight attendants
    • Cashiers
    • Postal service workers
    • Educational staff (teachers, daycare workers, support staff)
    • Manufacturing workers
    • Corrections officers

If you are unsure if you should receive a booster shot, check with your healthcare provider for more guidance.

When Should You Get It?

You’re eligible to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster six months after completing the initial series. This recommendation may change as we learn more about how long immunity lasts.

Side Effects/Risks

The risks associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot are similar to the initial two-shot series. Although side effects are rare, it’s critical to know what to look for. They usually occur within two days of getting the injection. Side effects include:

  • Pain and swelling at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea

Usually, symptoms are mild to moderate. Seek medical attention for severe symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme nausea or vomiting

Can You Get a Pfizer Booster if You Received the Moderna Vaccine?

At this time, boosters are administered to those who have completed the two-shot course of the Pfizer vaccine. People who have received the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine aren’t eligible. However, the approval process for both of these vaccines is ongoing, and the boosters will become available very soon.

Why Does the Advice Change So Much?

The SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus is what is known as a novel virus. That means that it is new to us and was never previously found in humans. We are constantly learning how it works, how to prevent its spread, and how to treat its symptoms.

As we learn more about the coronavirus and COVID-19, we have to update treatment and prevention protocols. That means that information may be updated as time goes on. Contact your healthcare provider to find out the most up-to-date information. They will also be able to answer any questions that you might have.

Alyse Thompson, M.D., is a freelance medical writer who has experience caring for patients in both primary care and urgent care settings. She also has a master’s degree in basic medical science. She has managed acute and chronic diseases and has taken part in medical and pharmaceutical research. Dr. Thompson’s focus has been on surgery, general medicine, weight loss, infectious disease, medical devices, pharmaceutical research, and medical apps.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/thinking-about-covid-booster-shots-heres-what-to-know-202110072610

https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-authorizes-booster-dose-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-certain-populations

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-19-booster

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/occupations-highest-covid19-risk/

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/2019-novel-coronavirus

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/Pfizer-BioNTech.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/Moderna.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/janssen.html

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/pfizer/reactogenicity.html

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