5 Facts About the Vaccine Booster Shot

On September 24, 2021, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced their decision and recommendation for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. The recommendations are based on age, underlying medical conditions, institutional environments, and high-risk/high-exposure employment. The people who are now eligible for a booster are the same people who had priority to receive the vaccine when it first rolled out. This week, we ask and answer five questions about the most current guidance for the booster shot. Seniors and caregivers in San Diego will need to decide for themselves if they fit in one of the at-risk groups who can benefit from a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

Who is now eligible for a booster shot?

According to the CDC’s press release dated 9/24/2021:

  • “People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
  • People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
  • People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks, and
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.”

Why are people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot the only ones eligible?

The Pfizer shot is currently the only vaccine that has been studied, assessed, and approved for a booster. Anyone in one of the approved groups who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, except for the severely immunocompromised, must wait at least six months after their second shot to get a third shot. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently being studied and have submitted data about the benefits of a third shot to the FDA for review. If you received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine already, do not get a Pfizer booster shot. Doctors advise against mixing two mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, and the Johnson & Johnson is a traditional virus-based / DNA vaccine, which works in a completely different way.

What’s in the booster shot?

The booster shot is a third dose of the original vaccine. The manufacturers of the approved vaccines will eventually adjust the ‘formulas’ to address variants like Delta, but in the meantime, all three vaccines are performing strongly against Delta and other variants.

Why is a booster shot required?

All the vaccines currently approved and in use are based on the original ‘Wuhan’ virus. Some of the many variants that have emerged since December 2019 are different enough from the original that they’re able to evade some of the vaccine’s protective measures. The immune system weakens with age in general, so vaccinated people over 65 experience reduced benefit from the vaccine as the months pass. For example, data shows that in those age 75 and over, protection against hospitalization for COVID-19 dropped from 94 percent to 80 percent after a few months. The available data shows more breakthrough cases in vaccinated people over 65 compared to those under 65. For both these reasons, a third shot will safely increase antibody levels and increase protection against infection and serious illness.

Where can I get a booster shot in San Diego if I’m eligible?

The CountyNewsCenter.com website says that “There are over 400 locations where San Diegans can get vaccinated against COVID-19. They include doctor’s offices, retail pharmacies (Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, etc.), community clinics and County public health centers.” You don’t need a doctor’s note or referral for the booster shot, just confirmation that the location you choose has the Pfizer vaccine available.

The large majority of new COVID-19 cases are found in the unvaccinated, but the remaining cases of breakthrough COVID-19 are affecting the vaccinated. The protection of a booster shot will help people in at risk groups, jobs and settings to protect themselves and the people around them.