COVID booster shot FAQ
If you feel like the news around COVID-19 booster shots is giving you whiplash, you’re not alone.
Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a third shot for people who have suppressed immune systems, but emphasized they didn’t support booster shots for everyone. On Wednesday, the White House that it would push for booster shots for almost everyone, starting as soon as late September.
Confused? The Post has the answers to your questions.
Who qualifies for a third dose now?
You’re eligible if you:
- Had an organ transplant at any time, or a recent stem cell transplant,
- Are being treated for cancer,
- Were born with a compromised immune system,
- Have uncontrolled HIV,
- Are being treated with high doses of immune-suppressing drugs, or
- Have another condition that can severely affect the immune system, like chronic kidney disease.
Dr. Jay Finigan, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, advised people who aren’t sure whether they should get a third shot to talk to their doctors.
“Like really every medical decision, this is a decision you should make with the guidance and counsel of your physician,” he said.
Why does the CDC believe certain people need a third dose?
Studies have found that people who had an organ transplant and must take medications to suppress their immune systems so the body won’t destroy the new organ get less benefit from two shots. Even after getting both shots, they are about 400 times as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 as a fully vaccinated person who hasn’t had a transplant.
A booster dose allows some people who weren’t protected after two shots to mount an immune response. But even with a third shot, people with compromised immune systems probably have less protection than the general population, so it’s important that they continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public.
What is the president talking about doing with boosters?
Earlier this week, the White House set a goal of offering booster shots to high-risk health care workers and nursing home residents as soon as Sept. 20, with others getting a third dose about eight months after their second. Before that can happen, though, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC would have to agree that the potential benefits of a third dose outweigh any drawbacks.
I thought only people with compromised immune systems needed a third dose?
Most people with healthy immune systems have a good response to two doses. The question now is how fast that immunity fades.
This week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said a series of studies pointed to a general decline in the vaccine’s ability to prevent infections since May, with the biggest effects seen in nursing homes. It’s not clear if that’s because immunity fades over time, the delta variant is better at getting around the body’s defenses, or both. The vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death, she said.
Boosters remain controversial. The World Health Organization asked countries like the United States to hold off, because many countries haven’t been able to vaccinate even health care workers.
There likely isn’t much benefit for a person who just got their second shot to try to schedule a third one, Finigan said, but older people and health care workers who were vaccinated over the winter might do well to get a booster. The odds that immunity will wane grow as time passes, and older people are a higher risk of severe complications, he said.
“I think there would be some urgency about getting them booster shots,” he said.
Would this be different from the previous doses?
Nope. Additional doses work, not because they contain something different, but because they give the immune system another “practice round,” ideally preparing it to respond if it ever encounters the real thing.
Like the previous two shots, boosters will be free. You don’t have to provide information about your insurance coverage or immigration status.
Do I have to get the Pfizer if I had Pfizer originally?
That’s the recommendation, because we don’t have much research on whether mixing and matching shot types is safe and effective.
If you got the Johnson & Johnson shot, there’s no recommendation for another dose at this point, because scientists are still trying to determine if a second shot would be helpful.
Where can I get a third dose?
If you qualify now, you can get the third shot at any location that receives doses from either the state or the federal government, including retail pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and King Soopers.
Odds are you can get your third vaccine wherever you got the previous two doses, unless it was a temporary site that shut down. Call ahead to be sure.
To see vaccination providers in your area, visit covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine/where-you-can-get-vaccinated.
What is Colorado doing?
Health systems are updating their computer systems so they won’t flag third shots as a mistake. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is sending out guidance this week, so doctors know which patients they should contact about a third shot.
Finigan said there’s enough capacity to start giving out booster shots in Colorado, while continuing to reach out to unvaccinated people.
“If anybody is unvaccinated, it’s never too late,” he said. “I think there’s enough places to give vaccine to anyone who wants it.”
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