COVID-19 booster shots are now available to all adults in the U.S. 

Friday morning’s Food and Drug Administration approved booster doses of any adult. It lifted restrictions that were imposed in the last month.

Later in the day, a panel of independent experts voted unanimously to support boosters for all and to particularly encourage people over 50 to get them, after reviewing safety data and information about the benefit they provide. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky quickly signed off on the shots.

The decision means all adults who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccines at least six months ago are now eligible for a third dose. People who received the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson more than two months ago were already eligible for boosters. 

Pre-purchased vaccine by the Biden Administration should be sufficient to give free booster shots. The doses will also be available at pharmacies immediately.

For about one month boosters have been available for some groups, but so far they have only been granted to 17% and 37% respectively of adults 65 years and over. California, Kentucky, Kentucky, and Massachusetts have all authorized boosters.

Vaccine experts say there’s little down side to getting a booster dose; side effects are comparable to the initial round of shots.

Data shows that protection from vaccinations begins to fade around six months. The same people who are vulnerable to severe COVID-19 – those over 65 or with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or lung disease – are also more vulnerable to so-called breakthrough infections. 

Here is what you should know about boosters:

Should anyone get a booster shot for their health?

Anyone who received their first two doses of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago is now eligible for a third booster dose. Anyone who got a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago can get a second shot.

What is the best shot?

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are very similar and the government has said that mixing vaccine brands is fine – so, it’s not a problem to get a Pfizer-BioNTech booster after one of the other two, for example. J&J recipients may get better protection by switching vaccines for their second dose, data shows.

It is worth it to have a booster.

According to studies, vaccine effectiveness against symptoms of disease fades about six months following initial vaccinations. A booster dose boosts protection levels to the same or higher level as initial shots.

Also, booster shots can reduce the transmission of virus. This could limit or even stop the spread.

Can shots protect you in time for holidays?

Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines can take around a week before they start to make a difference. So, while it’s probably too late to get protection in time for a big Thanksgiving celebration, getting a shot in the next few weeks will provide extra protection for Christmas and New Year’s.

How about the potential risks?

A third dose does not seem to pose any extra risks compared with earlier doses. Side effects haven’t changed and are very similar to those reported from earlier doses.

Experts are concerned about a possible side effect, myocarditis. This is an inflammation of the heart that can occur in young and adolescent men. Myocarditis is usually short-lived and mild following vaccination but can be more serious when it results from infection with COVID-19, research shows.

Is it possible to use boosters in addition to initial doses of the drug? 

Pfizer-BioNTech and J&J boosters are the same as initial shots. Moderna uses a booster that is half as strong as its initial shot. This provides the same protection but with less side effects.

Are boosters available for people already infected?  

Although boosters are not recommended for those who have been infected, there have not been any studies that specifically examined the effect of these boosters on people who were already vaccinated. The combination of vaccination and infection is generally more effective than one alone. However, protection from vaccines can be predictable and more reliable.

Do people around the world not need to have more shots?

Many countries lack enough vaccines to provide protection for their most vulnerable citizens. Although the U.S. has pledged to donate hundreds of millions to countries around the globe, most of these vaccines have not yet arrived because it prioritized giving doses to Americans. Americans receive vaccine doses from an entirely different source and they will likely expire soon if not used. So, skipping a booster will not help someone elsewhere even though they may need a shot more.

Are people going to need additional boosters? 

However, it is not known if a third dose of COVID-19 will provide indefinite protection or if additional annual or monthly doses are required. The immune system’s response to the third dose will play a major role, along with how many viruses are currently in circulation and whether new variants of COVID-19 emerge to reduce existing protection.

Contact Karen Weintraub at [email protected] and Elizabeth Weise at [email protected]

USA TODAY has coverage for patient safety and healthcare thanks in part to the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. Editorial input does not come from the Masimo Foundation.



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