WTF Is Going On With COVID-19 Boosters?

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
A doctor vaccinating a person with a COVID-19 booster shot
Jens Schlueter/Getty

When the COVID vaccines were first released, we thought of them as either a two-shot deal (Pfizer and Moderna), or a one-shot deal (Johnson & Johnson). But over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard chatter of folks needing a booster shot for all or some of the vaccines.

The thing is, the way the idea of a booster shot has been introduced to the American people has been, well, a bit of a shitshow.

If You’re Confused, You’re Not The Only One

As Eric Topol–physician and Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute–outlined on Twitter, the way the information about boosters came out was totally confusing.

First President Biden said most of us would be eligible for a booster eight months after our second shot. Then he changed that to six months. Then five months. Then the White House said it would only be Pfizer recipients who got boosters, at least for now.

Finally, the FDA met and after looking at data Pfizer presented (and arguing about it for hours), they recommended that everyone aged 65 or over should receive a Pfizer booster six months after their second shot. They also said that anyone at risk of serious illness should receive one, along with frontline workers, like healthcare workers and teachers.

Then, the CDC ACIP committee met and they were like, “Nah, just folks age 65 or older and people with underlying conditions should get the booster. Not frontline workers.”

Finally, the CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, made an unprecedented move and overruled the CDC ACIP committee and added the frontline workers part back in.

Uhhh, yeah. Talk about confusing. Just typing all this out is making my head spin,

Now, I think it’s important to understand that what is happening during the pandemic is that we are seeing science unfold the way it’s supposed to, except we don’t usually see all this happen in real time. Scientists are supposed to test their stuff, and test it again. They are supposed to disagree with each other, and part of that dialogue is how they come to the most well-thought-out conclusions.

But also—and this is super important—COVID-19 a new virus, so we are learning how the virus works as we go along. And how the vaccines hold up against the virus, and what we need to do to fully protect folks, is something that will keep changing and evolving as we learn more.

Why Boosters Might Be Needed

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Getty Images

The reason that vaccine boosters were recommended was mainly because the efficacy of the vaccines was waning as time passed, and especially in light of the Delta variant. This isn’t to say that the vaccines aren’t protecting the vast majority of us from serious illness—for the most part, that hasn’t changed. Even months after getting vaccines, most vaccinated people aren’t becoming seriously ill with COVID even if they catch it.

Personally, I’m not surprised that we likely need boosters. Think about the vaccines that your kids get as babies. It’s usually a series of 3-4 shots before they are considered fully immune. It makes sense that your body needs to learn to fight the virus several times before it becomes a true master.

So Who Can Get A Vaccine Now?

Okay, so at this point, all the confusing back-and-forth is over. Once the CDC director made her recommendation, the rules for who could receive the booster shots were finalized. As of now, you can get your booster at your local pharmacy or health center.

Here’s who is permitted to get a booster shot at this time …

According to the CDC. people who are eligible for a booster are those who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine six months ago, AND fit into one of these categories:

  • Are aged 65 or more
  • Are aged 18 plus and have certain underlying conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID complications, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
  • Are aged 18 plus and live in high risk settings, like long term care facilities
  • Are aged 18 plus and work in high risk settings, like healthcare, education, public transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and in public-facing jobs like grocery stores

For a detailed breakdown of who qualifies, visit the CDC’s Booster Info page. For a list of qualifying health conditions, go here, and for a list of qualifying high risk jobs, go here.

It should also be noted that immunocompromised folks who got either Pfizer OR Moderna can get a booster shot at this time.

What About Moderna And J&J?

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MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Folks who received Moderna or J&J vaccines might feel a little neglected right now when it comes to boosters. Again, both Pfizer and Modern recipients who have a compromised immune system can get third shots right now. But as for Moderna recipients who are not immunocompromised—or folks who received the J&J—it sounds like they need to wait a little longer.

That’s largely because data about the need for boosters for both Moderna and J&J has come in more slowly than for Pfizer. But regulators estimate that data will come in during the next few weeks or months, and that booster recommendations will be made soon enough. So hang tight, Moderna and J&J people. And if you think you might need a booster based on your specific medical situation, talk to your doctor about options.

What About Everyone Else?

As for the rest of the general population, it’s likely that we will all need third doses eventually, even if we aren’t 65 plus, dealing with an underlying condition, or work or live in a high risk setting. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a three-shot regime is probably going to be the norm, at least for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“Ultimately I believe that the optimal regimen for the mRNA [vaccines] is going to include that third booster shot,” Dr. Fauci said, according to The Washington Post.

As for when all of that’s going to happen, no one really knows. But again, that shouldn’t be too alarming at this point, because that’s how science works in a pandemic. We just all have to have faith that the scientists and doctors will do their thing as quickly—most importantly—as carefully as possible.

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