ATLANTA – Federal authorities are preparing to allow booster shots for most Americans. Here are the answers to some questions.
Q: Are boosters needed because vaccines don’t work?
Answer: No. Continuous case tracking shows that all three vaccines work well to prevent serious illness or death, even when tested against the Delta variant. However, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are showing progressively diminishing protection, and a single Johnson & Johnson / Janssen vaccine has never shown such strong protection as the other two brands. When given an additional dose, all three vaccines show enhanced protection.
Q: Am I considered “fully vaccinated” if I do not receive the booster shot?
Answer: Yes. Everyone is still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose in a series of two shots, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single dose, such as the J&J / Janssen vaccine.
Q: So who needs a booster?
A: The federal government laid down the rules when it was allowed to re-vaccinate Pfizer vaccine. There are two levels: people who “can” get a booster if they really want to; and those who “should” get a booster.
Start with what follows: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants these groups to get a booster. They are:
- Any age 65 or older
- Anyone who lives or works in a long-term care facility
- Anyone 50 years of age or older with a medical condition.
Some others “may” get a booster, but they should weigh the pros and cons so that they don’t waste a dose if they don’t really need it. Those who can get a booster:
- Anyone between the ages of 18 and 49 with an underlying medical condition
- People between the ages of 18 and 64 who are at increased risk “due to occupational or institutional conditions.”
Q: What professions are considered high risk?
A: According to the CDC, high risk jobs include:
- Rapid response services such as medical personnel, firefighters and police.
- Educational workers such as teachers and kindergarten workers.
- Food and agricultural workers
- Production workers
- Correctional workers
- U.S. Postal Service workers
- Public transport workers
- Grocery store workers
Q: What is the difference between the three vaccines?
A: Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are considered “messenger RNA” vaccines, which means they teach the body to make a protein that mimics the coronavirus by triggering an immune response.
The J&J vaccine uses a weakened cold virus that has been modified to transmit genetic information about the new coronavirus. Although the mechanisms are different, both types of vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize and fight the new coronavirus.
Q: Should I take a booster from a different manufacturer than my first shots?
A: An FDA advisory committee discussed mixing and matching parent vaccines with a booster vaccine from another manufacturer, but the committee did not vote to take an official position. Perhaps the CDC will address this issue later.
Q: Wait a minute. I thought that some of the people who were originally vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna had already received an additional vaccine. What’s the matter?
A: This is getting tricky; it’s all about the wording. The FDA and CDC said back in August that people with weakened immune systems who received Pfizer or Moderna should get a third shot because they probably never built up the needed immunity with their original two shots. But this third shot could be taken as little as 28 days after the original burst, rather than six months; and this is called the “third shot”, not the “booster”. For now, boosters should appear six months or more after the first injections.