Is a COVID-19 booster shot the same as a third dose of vaccine?
While the actual vaccine and dose is the same, there is a distinction between a third dose and a booster shot. “Third dose” applies to individuals with moderately or severely compromised immune systems who may not have gotten the level of protection they need from the first two doses of vaccine. “Booster shot” applies to the concern that immunity decreases over time.
Booster shots have been approved for Pfizer vaccine only, whereas both two-dose mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have been approved for a third dose in qualified individuals (people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised).
What is the timeline for third doses of mRNA vaccine? What is the timeline for booster shots?
— CDC recommends that people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days after a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.
— CDC recommends that qualifying individuals who received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least 6 months ago receive a booster.
Do booster shot recommendations mean that the vaccine isn’t working?
No. Data shows that the vaccines are working extremely well to keep people from experiencing severe disease or requiring hospitalizations. That said, studies have shown there are certain groups who benefit from an additional dose of vaccine, either because they are immunocompromised and did not respond sufficiently to the standard dosage, because they have waning immunity due to age or because their occupation puts them at risk for increased exposure to the virus.
Studies are currently underway to study to determine whether the general population would benefit from receiving a booster dose. Additional populations may be recommended to receive a booster shot as more data become available.
What exactly are the booster shot recommendations? Am I eligible to receive a booster shot?
The following individuals are currently eligible for a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine 6 months after their second shot:
— People 65 years and older
— Residents of long-term care settings
— People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions
— People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions
— People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional setting (i.e. first responders, education staff, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers and grocery store workers).
What if I received Moderna vaccine? Or J&J? When can I get my booster?
— So far, only Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the FDA for booster shot administration. If you meet CDC’s criteria for an individual who is immunocompromised, you may be eligible for a third dose of Moderna vaccine (recall above the distinction between a booster shot and a third dose).
— FDA’s advisory committee is meeting on October 14th and 15th to discuss the use of booster doses for Moderna and J & J COVID-19 vaccines. The committee will also hear presentations and discuss available data on the use of a booster of a different vaccine than the one used for the primary series of an authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine (heterologous or “mix and match” booster).
Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine/booster and flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time.
Even though both vaccines can be given at the same visit, people should follow the recommended schedule for either vaccine: If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can, and ideally get a flu vaccine by the end of October.
Is it safe for me to receive a COVID-19 booster?
— The FDA and CDC continue to carefully monitor each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines for safety concerns and will continue to communicate new findings regarding potential safety issues with the public. Serious side effects from the vaccines (such as incidents of blood clots in women of reproductive age who received J & J vaccine and incidents of myocarditis following the second injection of mRNA vaccines) are extremely rare. It’s important to remember that potential safety risks of COVID-19 vaccines must be weighed against serious risk or harm due to the COVID-19 infection.
— FROM CDC: “So far, reactions reported after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot were similar to that of the 2-shot primary series. Fatigue and pain at the injection site were the most commonly reported side effects, and overall, most side effects were mild to moderate. However, as with the 2-shot primary series, serious side effects are rare, but may occur.”
Where can I get a booster shot? Why can’t I go to a County or town-run drive-through booster shot clinic? Why isn’t Cape Cod Healthcare standing up booster shot clinics?
Here on Cape Cod, there is a vast selection of retail pharmacies and healthcare providers that are offering the COVID-19 vaccine. The best way to find a site in your area is through the Mass.gov COVID-19 Vaccine Finder.
Unlike the beginning of vaccine distribution in February of this year, the COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available. There is no longer an essential need to utilize public funding and resources to orchestrate large-scale clinics; resources that that could be dedicated to other important services, such as testing, contact tracing and case investigation. The data that are collected during these efforts helps us understand how the disease spreads in our community, and therefore helps us better guide policy decisions that serve to protect our citizens.
Cape Cod Healthcare (like many hospitals, physician’s offices, and clinics statewide) is already under significant strain due to a burned-out workforce and an excess of patients who have put off care due to COVID and are now in need of urgent medical help. There’s also the issue of emergency department “boarding”; the phenomenon of patients waiting more than 12 hours for behavioral health services and admittance to inpatient psychiatric units (“one important dynamic likely impacting the increase in behavior health ED boarding is the loss of nearly 270 psychiatric beds in the Commonwealth due to closures and COVID-10 related physical distancing and quarantine protocols”). 
Please note: People in need of healthcare services (emergency or otherwise) are urged to exercise patience with our healthcare workers and remember that they deserve kindness and consideration during what continues to be a very challenging time. It’s important to remember that these essential workers continue to show up for their patients day after day in spite of significant personal and professional stress.
What is the timeframe/outlook for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine?
The FDA anticipates receiving a request from Pfizer to amend its emergency use authorization to allow the use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children 5 through 11 years of age. In anticipation of the request, the FDA is moving forward with scheduling an advisory committee meeting on Oct. 26 to inform the agency’s decision-making.