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COVID-19 Booster Vaccine Update Q&A

Our primary care doctors promised to keep you apprised of the latest coronavirus news. This includes the evolving guidance from the government regarding the COVID-19 booster vaccine.

So here’s the latest information from the experts.

Who is eligible now?

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 booster shots.

For individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccination, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot six months or more after their initial series:

  • those aged 65 years and older
  • anyone age 18 or older who lives in long-term care settings. This includes those in residential care, assisted living, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities, and group homes
  • for anybody age 18 and older who has underlying medical conditions. This includes cancer, chronic kidney or liver disease, chronic lung diseases (including current and former smokers), diabetes, heart conditions, organ or blood stem cell transplants, or pregnancy
  • for anyone age 18 and older who works or lives in high-risk settings. This includes first responders, education staff, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, may be on the verge of approving Pfizer booster shots for all Americans age 18 and older, possibly as soon as this week. Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize boosters for this population. Moderna is expected to submit a similar request “soon,” according to the New York Times.

If the FDA approves such a move, the CDC will still have to sign off on it, which appears likely at this time.

Can I mix COVID-19 booster vaccine types?

Months ago, when the need for booster vaccines began to be supported by more evidence, authorities weren’t willing to advise people to mix-and-match vaccine types.

Last month, however, the CDC gave the go-ahead to receive a second or third dose of a vaccine. The approval included boosters from a different manufacturer than the first series they received.

This means that an eligible person who received a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine can feel free to get a booster of another Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a single dose of either Moderna or Pfizer. Those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines could stick with the same type of “overlay” their protection from a different manufacturer.

“We will not articulate a preference,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told reporters late last month.

“My understanding is that most people will have done well with the initial vaccine that they got and may express a preference, very much, for the original vaccine series they got, having done very well.”

Is mixing and matching better?

The question is, should you mix-and-match brands? That depends, say, health experts.

“If it was for me or my family member, I would recommend an mRNA vaccine [Pfizer or Moderna] for those who received J&J, Desi Kotis, associate dean at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy, told NPR.

That’s because at least one study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that having an mRNA shot if you already had the Johnson & Johnson shot produced a stronger immune response.

The same appears to be true when mixing an initial dose of Pfizer with Moderna’s or vice versa. If you had strong side effects from one, you may experience milder or even no side effects from another type. This depends on each individual and there are no guarantees you won’t have side effects from a different manufacturer’s vaccine.

Other reasons for switching include those who might not recall which vaccine brand they received, or another type may be more readily available in their area than the one they got the first time.

Do I need a COVID-19 booster vaccine?

Whether you need a booster or not largely depends on your health status, and comfort level. That is, if you don’t fall into one of the CDC’s approved categories but would feel more confident in your immune status with an additional dose, a booster might make sense for you.

And new research seems to indicate that boosters for all are a good idea.

A report on CNBC pointed out that initially, the first series was enough to protect against severe cases. It also lowered the chances of hospitalization and death.

But because of those millions of people who remain unvaccinated, the delta variant continues to spread. Vaccine protection is “waning more significantly over time than experts expected two months ago,” the network noted.

According to Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, “the odds of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people—with potentially serious symptoms—are increasing.”

Booster shots can help lessen the chance for severe disease if you do contract the virus, she told CNBC.

If you have any questions about whether to receive a booster vaccine, please check with us.

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