Tips to Live By

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

May 23, 2022 - Katie McCallum

*Booster eligibility updated on October 14, 2022

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?

Everyone 18+

Adults 18+ are eligible* for either the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine, both of which are specifically designed to increase immunity to the currently-circulating omicron variant.

*The FDA and CDC have stated that people are only eligible after at least two months have passed since completion of primary or booster vaccination. Additionally, they recommend that people recently infected with COVID-19 wait at least three months post-infection before being vaccinated with the booster.

(Related: How Effective Is the Updated Booster Against Omicron? & 5 More Questions, Answered)

Use the CDC's COVID booster tool to determine if and when you are due for a booster shot.

Teens ages 12 to 17

Teens ages 12 to 17 are eligible* for a booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine, both of which are specifically designed to increase immunity to the currently-circulating omicron variant.

*The FDA and CDC have stated that people are only eligible after at least two months have passed since completion of primary or booster vaccination. Additionally, they recommend that people recently infected with COVID-19 wait at least three months post-infection before being vaccinated with the booster.

(Related: How Effective Is the Updated Booster Against Omicron? & 5 More Questions, Answered)

Use the CDC's COVID booster tool to determine if and when you or your teen are due for a booster shot.

Kids Ages 5 to 11

Kids ages 5+ are eligible* for a booster dose specifically designed to increase immunity to the currently-circulating omicron variant.

  • Kids 5+ can receive the Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine
  • Kids 6+ can receive either the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine

*The FDA and CDC have stated that people are only eligible after at least two months have passed since completion of primary or booster vaccination. Additionally, they recommend that people recently infected with COVID-19 wait at least three months post-infection before being vaccinated with the booster.

(Related: How Effective Is the Updated Booster Against Omicron? & 5 More Questions, Answered)

Use the CDC's COVID booster tool to determine if and when your child is due for a booster shot.

Young Children Under the Age of 5 Aren't Yet Eligible for a Booster

Young children between the ages of 6 months to 4 years aren't yet eligible for the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent boosters that target the omicron variant.

They are, however, eligible for the primary vaccination series with either Pfizer or Moderna. (Related: 5 Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines for Young Children, Answered)

Use the CDC's COVID vaccine tool to determine which vaccine your child is eligible for.

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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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