The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved booster shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, offering additional protection for millions more Americans.

Coronavirus Updates, News | 6 months ago

COVID-19 Booster Shots: What You Need to Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved booster shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, offering additional protection for millions more Americans. Katie Passaretti, MD, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health, has answers to some of your questions about boosters and what to expect.

Editor’s Note: This information is current as of April 7, 2022.

COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) have approved booster shots for everyone 12-years old and older who received the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine and 18-years old and older for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

So, what does this mean and how should you plan based on your personal needs? Katie Passaretti, MD, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health, recently answered some questions on the topic.

What are COVID-19 booster shots?

A vaccine booster shot may be administered to eligible individuals. Initial vaccine protection is good, but it decreases over time, so boosters help to bump that protection back up and provide additional protection against newer variants like Omicron. The CDC and the FDA have now approved boosters for everyone who:

  • Is 12-years old and older and completed both doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at least five months ago
  • Is 18-years old and older and completed both doses of the Moderna vaccine at least five months ago
  • Is 18-years old and older who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago

The CDC has also said that any of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines can be used as a booster and leave it up to patients and their providers to decide which is the best option for them.

A second booster is now approved for some individuals at least 4 months after their first booster. You can get a second booster if you’re any one of the following:

  • Age 50 or older 
  • Age 12 or older with a moderately or severely compromised immune system 
  • Among those who received Johnson & Johnson as their initial vaccine and booster

The second booster dose must be an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna). A second booster is most important for those at highest risk to consider.

What about people who are immunocompromised?

People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised and received the Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna vaccines should get a third dose of the vaccine at least 28 days after their second dose. It’s also recommended that those individuals should then get a booster five months after their third dose of Pfizer or Moderna. So, for people who are immunocompromised, it’s recommended they get a total of four doses.

The CDC also recommends a third dose of Pfizer for children ages 5 to 11 who have compromised immune systems, but has not recommended an additional booster following that third dose.

Those who are ages 12 and older with a moderately or severely compromised immune system are also now eligible for a second booster dose, at least four months after their first booster.

Booster appointments are now available on MyAtriumHealth and on AtriumHealth.org/COVID19vaccine

Why do I need another COVID-19 vaccination?

Similar to other vaccines – such as flu – vaccine effectiveness can wane over time. Booster shots are needed for some individuals to provide additional protection against COVID-19.

Do I need to get the same vaccine I received previously?

Those 18-years old and older do not. The FDA and the CDC have said it’s okay to mix-and-match boosters. We do recommend you try to stick with the same manufacturer for the first two parts of a vaccination series, but the CDC’s decision leaves it up to you and your doctor to decide which booster is best for you. (Except for a second booser dose, which must be an mRNA vaccine.) That means, even if you received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, it’s okay to get Moderna or Johnson & Johnson for your booster. But remember only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for those under the age of 18, so children ages 5-17 would have to get Pfizer for their booster.

What can I expect after the booster shot?

If you experience any side effects, they likely will be similar to those you might’ve experienced after the prior dose.

How can I get my booster?

Atrium Health is now scheduling boosters for all adults and kids 12-years old and older  as long as enough time has passed since their vaccine. For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it’s 5 months after your second dose and for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s at least 2 months after receiving your vaccine. Appointments are available via MyAtriumHealth and AtriumHealth.org/COVID19vaccine