You Have Covid Booster Shot Questions, We Have Answers: Yahoo News Explains

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed COVID-19 booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as a mix-and-match approach. It will allow tens of millions of Americans to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and have the flexibility to get a booster shot that is different from their primary series. Dr. Lucy McBride, who specializes in internal medicine, explains what we need to know about who can receive a booster, and how the mix-and-match approach works.

Video Transcript

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LUCY MCBRIDE: The reason some people need booster shots, despite the extraordinarily high effectiveness of the vaccines, is because there is a very tiny percentage of people who, if exposed to coronavirus and get a breakthrough infection, are at particularly high risk for poor outcomes. So we're really trying to protect those most vulnerable populations, without confusing the general public and suggesting that the vaccines aren't supremely effective. The amount of protection is variable, and depends on the host, the patient who is the recipient of the vaccine, and the booster itself. But we know from real-world data that the booster shots do an excellent job at adding that needed protection for our most vulnerable populations.

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People who are eligible for booster shots right now are Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are six months out from their last dose who are over 65 or who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe disease and people who have occupational risk factors for more exposure to coronavirus. People who are immune-compromised can get that third dose one month after their primary series.

All J&J recipients are eligible now for a booster shot. They can get a single mRNA shot, either the Pfizer or the Moderna, or the J&J as a second dose. And they should get that second dose two months after their original shot. We have learned through real-world data that the J&J vaccine, a single dose is not as effective as the mRNA vaccines at protecting people from severe outcomes, and from COVID-19 in the first place.

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Booster shots are free, and are available at most major pharmacy chains, and hopefully soon, also at primary care doctors offices, where I, for example, see patients every day and where trust is born.

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Mixing and matching COVID vaccines means that if you got the Pfizer vaccine series, it is OK and perhaps even advantageous to get a different vaccine, like the Moderna, for your third dose, if you are eligible. So there's data that does show the sort of choose your own adventure map of what each booster shot does, but at the end of the day, again, I think it makes sense to keep a broad view of our goals here, and recognize that Pfizer and Moderna are very, very similar in terms of their effects, and that whichever one you can get access to, if you're eligible, is the vaccine you should get.

The Moderna booster is half-dose compared to the regular, original dose of Moderna. And people who have received the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine or the J&J vaccine should get that half-dose for their third or, in the case of J&J, second shot, unless, however, you are immune-compromised, in which case you should get the full dose of Moderna as your third dose.

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The side effects of the booster shots are very similar to the side effects of the primary series. There are two main categories. One is local pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. And number two is fever, body aches, fatigue, if anything, up to a couple of days after the shot. Now, it's important to recognize that those side effects are normal, they're expected, and they are evidence of our immune systems working as appropriate.

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For people who've had the vaccine series and who get infected with coronavirus, it's really a shared decision between you and your primary care doctor as to whether or not you should get a third dose because getting the actual virus and mounting an immune response to coronavirus itself can count as another booster, depending on the level of infection you had. And it's very, very variable among different people as to whether or not that would qualify as your third dose, so to speak.

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What I'm telling my patients who don't qualify for a booster shot, yet have had the primary series, is that the primary series does an excellent job of preventing death and severe disease. And at the end of the day, we need to think about the big picture. Coronavirus is here to stay. It is going to be endemic. It's going to be woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. Not that we want that, but once we have been vaccinated with a primary series, we have taken the claws and the fangs away from this virus and we have turned it into its milder version. So we have to understand that we can't boost our way into COVID zero. We can take away the very threatening potential consequences, and then start to redefine health as more than simply not getting COVID.

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