Are Booster Shots Common for Vaccines?

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Key Takeaways

  • Booster shots are now approved for all three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster dose for people who got the J&J vaccine, and a third dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
  • Individuals who meet eligibility criteria can choose any authorized booster shot.
  • Experts say boosters for vaccines are relatively common and sometimes necessary for bolstering protection against a virus or disease.
  • You’ve likely received a booster shot before—for example, adults should receive tetanus shots every ten years.

President Joe Biden announced on August 18 that booster shots would become available in mid-September for certain adults who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since authorized a booster dose for all three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S.

On October 20, the FDA expanded its emergency use authorization to include the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster vaccines. The agency had previously authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for certain individuals and a third dose of the Moderna vaccine for immunocompromised people who meet specific criteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a single booster dose to be administered at least six months after completion of the primary Pfizer or Moderna series in those who are:

Those 18 years and older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster at least two months after getting the initial vaccination.

Eligible individuals are able to choose any authorized COVID-19 booster—regardless of the vaccine type that was used for the initial vaccination. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson boosters will be administered with the same dosage as the initial vaccine, whereas Moderna’s will be a half dose (50 micrograms).

While COVID-19 is a new virus, the idea of booster shots isn’t. Get Meds Info spoke to experts about the use of booster shots for other routine vaccines you may be familiar with.

Booster Shots Are Common

According to Jason C. Gallagher, PharmD, FCCP, FIDP, FIDSA, BCPS, clinical professor at Temple University’s School of Pharmacy and clinical specialist in infectious diseases, boosters are common.

“Most vaccines that are given in the U.S. require several doses to render immunity,” Gallagher tells Get Meds Info. “I like to think of [a COVID-19 vaccine booster] as the third dose of a multi-dose series.”

While boosters are common, whether they’re necessary largely depends on the type of vaccine, Jeffrey Langland, PhD, virologist and professor at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, tells Get Meds Info.

“Most vaccines that do not contain a live, attenuated (weakened) virus, typically require multiple doses or boosters,” Langland says.

One dose of some live vaccines can offer you a lifetime of protection against disease. Other live vaccines may require two doses, like the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and chickenpox vaccines. Children typically get their first dose at 12–15 months old and their second (and final) dose between age 4–6.

But other types, like inactivated vaccines, will need several doses over time to remain effective. Boosters are currently recommended for several vaccines—chances are you’ve likely received one in your lifetime.

For example, adults should receive a tetanus vaccine—a recommended series of childhood and adult immunizations to protect against lockjaw—every ten years. You’re recommended to get others, like the flu shot, annually.

“We give the influenza vaccine annually since the virus constantly evolves, and we work to catch up with strains that dominate,” Gallagher says.

You start receiving boosters at an early age, Langland notes. These childhood vaccinations include:

  • Pneumococcal: three doses at two, four, and six months; boosters at 12 to15 months.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): two doses by four months; boosters at 12 to 15 months
  • Polio: three doses by 18 months; boosters at four to six years—depending on which vaccine is used.

Although most of these vaccines offer strong protection against diseases, the immunity offered by the shots often wanes over time. That’s where boosters come in.

Additional doses help amplify the body’s immune response. “A second or even third dose is given to boost the immune response, and it is this response that really primes the immune system to tackle the disease when it is encountered,” Gallagher says.

Because both the COVID-19 virus and vaccines are new, Langland says scientists are still learning about the duration of protection offered by the shots. But some data suggests the vaccines may now be offering reduced protection against mild and moderate disease with the rise of the Delta variant.

“We are still learning how long either natural immune memory lasts after a natural infection and how long it lasts after the vaccine,” Langland says. “The boosters help the immune system learn about the virus better and better each time a booster is received.”

What This Means For You

You are eligible for a Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson booster vaccine if you:

  • Completed the COVID-19 mRNA vaccination series at least six months ago AND are 65 or older or 18 and over with underlying medical conditions, or at high risk for occupational or institutional exposure.
  • Initially received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago and are 18 or older.

If you’re immunocompromised talk to your doctor about getting a third dose now.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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