What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Boosters

Opinion

By Dr. Armando Paez

If you haven’t received your COVID-19 booster shot yet, now is the time. There are many reasons to support getting a booster shot — or your initial vaccination if you haven’t already done so.

The emergence of the new Omicron variant, which is now in Massachusetts and several states, is an important reason why everyone eligible should be fully vaccinated with their booster shot. While at this time we do not know for sure how effective the current vaccines are against the new variant, including its transmissibility and potency, scientists are optimistic that current vaccines will offer some level of protection against Omicron.

We also know that, while the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against severe disease and hospitalization, new data shows that, similar to some other vaccines, such as for tetanus, their effectiveness wanes over time, requiring a booster shot. This is especially true for people age 65 and older and for individuals with weak immune systems.

We know that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that is the plain and simple truth. Do not believe the many myths and misinformation you may hear being perpetuated by some media outlets and on social media, which may be shared with you by friends or relatives who believe they are hearing them from a credible source.

This is a very contagious and potentially deadly virus, and you will not only be protecting yourself from becoming seriously ill or dying, but those around you as well. Most importantly, your choice to be vaccinated will help put an end to the pandemic by keeping it from spreading and, even worse, breeding to a variant that is even more transmissible and resistant to current vaccines.

We know that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that is the plain and simple truth. Do not believe the many myths and misinformation you may hear being perpetuated by some media outlets and on social media, which may be shared with you by friends or relatives who believe they are hearing them from a credible source.

Here are some answers to common questions about the COVID-19 booster:

When do I need to get my booster, and why should I get it sooner than later?

If you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, you should get your booster at least six months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you need only wait two months after getting your primary COVID-19 vaccination. You do not need to get the same COVID-19 booster as your original vaccination. In fact, a recent study suggests ‘mix and match’ (heterologous boosting) can lead to a higher level of antibody response.

Will I be getting the same dose as my original vaccination?

The booster shots are the same formulation as the current COVID-19 vaccines, with the exception of the Moderna vaccine booster, which is half of the original dose.

What if I never got my second dose?

If you have received Johnson & Johnson, a second dose (given after two months) will be considered your booster dose. However, if you have not received the second dose of the primary series of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, you should get this at the recommended schedule of three weeks (Pfizer-BioNtech) or four weeks (Moderna), or as soon as possible if you are past the recommended date.

Will I experience any side effects from my booster shot?

Some adults may have minor side effects, but most people will not experience any discomfort as a result of the booster. Common side effects include pain, redness, and swelling on the arm where you received your shot. You may also experience tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea, which should go away in a few days or less. You can reduce pain and discomfort where the shot is given by applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth to the area. Also, do not favor your arm; instead, use or exercise it. You can also take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or antihistamines to reduce your discomfort, as well as drinking plenty of fluids.

I’ve heard some people say they take over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Advil just before receiving their booster in order to prevent side effects, while others say not to. Who is right?

It is not recommended to take anti-fever or anti-inflammatory medications such as Tylenol or Advil beforehand because, based on other vaccine studies, it can potentially lessen your immune response from the vaccine. However, you can take these after the vaccination to manage symptoms.

What is causing a lower effectiveness of the vaccines, requiring a booster shot?

It is a known fact that immunity to infection can wane over time. A booster shot will stimulate and remind the immune system to prepare for infection. –

Dr. Armando Paez is chief of Infectious Diseases at Baystate Health.