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Understanding Booster Shots

As we make our way through the second year of this global pandemic, uncertainty, fear, and suspicion are still daily emotions for many Americans. There are still about 65 million eligible people in the country who have not yet received their first shot of the vaccine. For those who have completed both doses, there is a new concern: the question of booster shots.

Just this month on October 21, 2021, the head of the CDC, Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., released a statement specifying the groups who are now eligible for a covid booster shot. The first set of guidelines concerns those who have taken the Pfizer or Moderna-brand vaccines. At this point, booster shots are approved for the following groups:

  • 65 years and older
  • Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings (including nursing homes, psychiatric wards, day programs, rehabilitation programs and more)
  • Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions (this includes, of course, the immunocompromised, but also those with everything from cancer to diabetes to dementia. If you feel you may be included in this category, go over it with your physician beforehand.)
  • Age 18+ who work or live in high-risk settings (examples given: first responders including police, doctors and nurses; teachers and other school administrators and employees; workers in the farm industry, postal workers, grocery store employees, people working in prisons and manufacturing jobs…)

For those who received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, the recommendation is also in effect. Interestingly, after the past insistence that a person take the same brand for their first 2 doses, that advice has changed. The CDC is now recommending that people take any brand they prefer when it comes to the booster shot. This means that if you have taken Pfizer you may go on to get a third dose of that or receive Moderna or Johnson & Johnson as well.

This is most likely in response to the findings on vaccine effectiveness among the three different brands. When dealing with only “healthy adults” (those over 18 without immunocompromisation), and looking at the period of  March 11–August 15, 2021, the efficacy of the brands can be broken down like this:

  • The Moderna vaccine was found to be 93% effective
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be 88% effective
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be 71% effective

They also recommend bringing your vaccination card so you can have it updated after you receive your third shot. As of now, it is only the above-mentioned adults who are eligible for the booster shots. However, it is expected that all adults and eventually children will be eligible within the next year.

While some people are not happy at the thought of having to undergo a third shot, the CDC is trying to assure us all that this measure is useful and, even, expected. A lot of different vaccines require booster shots from time to time, this is why we have a term for them. The center is hoping that this development will be well-received by the population that is vaccinated and will not serve to further alienate the population that is not yet vaccinated.

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