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Who Is Eligible to Receive a COVID-19 Booster Shot Right Now?

May 23, 2022 - Katie McCallum

With things changing as fast as they do — and especially as more variants arise and spread around the world — you may have a few questions about COVID-19 boosters.

Who exactly is eligible to receive an additional dose right now? And which COVID-19 vaccine are you or other members of your family allowed to get as a booster dose?

To cut through the confusion, Dr. H. Dirk Sostman, chief academic officer of Houston Methodist, is here to answer your questions regarding what we know about additional doses right now, as well as what we don't.

Q: What’s the difference between a third shot and a booster?

Dr. Sostman: The term “third shot” is used to describe a third dose that’s needed when a person’s immune response likely hasn’t responded fully to the vaccine after the first doses — such is the case for people who are seriously or moderately immunocompromised.

A booster is also an additional dose of vaccine, but it’s used when help is needed to prolong protective immunity in someone who responded fully after the first dose or doses but there’s evidence that protection is waning after some time. In essence, a "top-up" of a person's effective immune response to their first vaccine series.

For people who received the two-shot series of Pfizer or Moderna or single shot of Johnson & Johnson, a booster dose is any dose that follows your initial vaccine series. For people who are immunocompromised and received three shots as part of their initial COVID-19 vaccine series, a booster dose is your fourth dose, as well as any subsequent doses.

Boosters are now available to everyone who is 5+, and some people are eligible for a second booster.

However, not everyone is eligible right away. This varies based on age, which vaccine you received and how far out you are from your initial dose or doses.

Q: Who is eligible for a booster right now?

Kids Ages 5 to 11

Kids ages 5 to 11 are eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine after five months have passed since their initial vaccine series.

Children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Teens ages 12 to 17

Teens ages 12 to 17 are eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine after five months have passed since their initial vaccine series.

Teens who are immunocompromised are also eligible for a second booster dose four months after the first booster dose.

Everyone 18+

All adults who are 18+ are eligible for a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you're 50+ or you're immunocompromised, you may be eligible for a second booster shot as well.

When you should get your booster shot(s) depends on:

  • Which vaccine series you initially received
  • Your age
  • Whether you are immunocompromised

Use the CDC's COVID booster tool to determine if and when you may need a first or second booster.

People Who Are Immunocompromised (Ages 5 & Up)

For those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised and at least five years of age, booster shots are recommended.

If you are 12+ and immunocompromised, you may also eligible for a second booster dose.

A person is considered immunocompromised if he or she:

  • Is actively being treated for a solid tumor or blood cancer
  • Has received a solid-organ transplant and is taking immunosuppressive medications
  • Has received a stem cell transplant in the last two years
  • Is actively being treated with certain immunosuppressive medications, including high-dose corticosteroids
  • Has a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency, such as DiGeorge and Wiskott-Aldrich syndromes
  • Has advanced or untreated HIV infection

Use the CDC's COVID booster tool to determine when and which COVID vaccine you should receive as your booster, which can vary based on age and which vaccine you initially received.

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If you don't meet these criteria, you may still be able to get a booster shot via a doctor-prescribed dose.

Because both vaccines are fully approved by the FDA, your doctor can choose to prescribe another dose of either of these vaccines as a booster, based on his or her best judgment for off-label prescribing.

In addition, the FDA and CDC have also authorized the use of heterologous (or “mix and match”) booster doses for people who 18 years of age or older, meaning adults can receive a booster of either Pfizer or Moderna.

In the meantime, we know that COVID-19 cannot spread effectively in a fully vaccinated population that’s taking the appropriate safety measures.

Which is why the most important things we can do as a community to fight COVID-19 are to:

  • Get everyone vaccinated and boosted
  • Wear masks while around other people, especially in indoor public spaces
  • Avoid crowds and indoor gatherings during times of high community transmission

Q: Is it important for your booster to match the original vaccine you received? Or can you mix and match?

Dr. Sostman: In addition to authorizing boosters for all three currently approved vaccines, the FDA and CDC also authorized the use of heterologous (or “mix and match”) booster doses for people over the age of 18.

Essentially, you are eligible to choose which vaccine you receive as a booster dose based on what’s made available to you.

For those currently eligible for boosters, the known and potential benefits of receiving a different vaccine as a booster dose outweigh the known and potential risks of mixing and matching.

Q: Could getting an additional dose of vaccine cause any harm?

Dr. Sostman: The CDC studied what happened when certain people were given an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The symptoms reported were consistent with previous doses and the intensity of the symptoms was mostly mild or moderate. If anything, the reactions to the additional dose were a little bit milder.

 

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