What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots may become available for the general American population starting September 20. Information and opinions about the planned rollout can be confusing. Authorization and exact details on how the plan will be implemented are still pending from two key agencies. However, the COVID-19 virus and its variants continue to spread and threaten our health. To protect ourselves and others, we must learn more about the booster shots and weigh the available options.

The good news is that COVID-19 vaccination is working and saving lives. The available vaccines continue to effectively reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death, even against the Delta variant. As researchers and agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) learn more about the virus and its variants, their guidance is updated. Research has found that like many vaccines, there’s a decrease in protection over time. This is especially true for older people and others with compromised immune systems.

Booster shot or additional dose?

Sometimes people with compromised immune systems do not build enough (or any) protection when they first get a vaccination. When this happens, getting another dose of the vaccine can sometimes help them build more protection against the disease. The CDC recommends that these people consider receiving an additional (third) dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days after the completion of their first two doses.

A “booster dose” or booster shot refers to another dose of a vaccine that is given to someone who has built enough protection after vaccination, but then that protection decreased over time. Booster shots help to maximize a vaccine’s protection against infection and possible serious illness.

Waiting on details

Implementation of the planned booster shot rollout depends on authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommendation from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The agencies’ guidance will cover the available mRNA vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) or Moderna. The FDA is conducting an independent evaluation to determine the safety and effectiveness of a booster dose of these vaccines. ACIP will decide whether to issue a booster dose recommendation based on a thorough review of the evidence. According to the CDC, people who got the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine will likely need a booster dose, but more research data is needed.

Booster shots for nursing homes

If the FDA authorizes and ACIP recommends it, the goal is for people to start receiving COVID-19 booster shots this fall. Individuals will be eligible starting 8 months after they have received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Healthcare providers as well as nursing home residents and employees are expected to be among the first to have access to booster shots.

With the rise of infection cases in Alabama and across the nation, it is vital to use all available resources to protect public health. If you are unvaccinated, we encourage you to consider vaccination and learn more about the available COVID-19 vaccines from credible, evidence-based sources. If you are vaccinated, please consult your healthcare provider about your need for a booster shot.

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