Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccination boosters have been approved and experts gave the green light to the mix-and-match strategy, or getting a different brand of booster than one’s original vaccine series.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday gave the OK for booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, endorsing a policy of “mixing and matching” the doses.
The increased choice creates a somewhat confusing snarl of steps. Here’s how to tell if you are eligible for a booster, and what you need to know.
Some medical experts noted signs of reduced effectiveness in the vaccines over a period of time, resulting in the push to develop a booster shot to strengthen the immune response. As with the original doses of the vaccines, the CDC’s formal review process concluded the boosters are safe and effective. Healthcare professionals, older people and those with serious health conditions are front of the line to receive the boosters.
With a Pfizer booster already approved, the CDC maintains that anyone eligible can choose which shot they get, regardless of their original doses.
“All three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe – as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement on Thursday. “And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant.”
Though limited studies show that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are more effective than the J&J dose, the CDC did not choose favorites. Any combination, they said, is fine.
Also, each booster has different eligibility.
Criteria for a Booster
For the mRNA boosters Pfizer and Moderna, you must be at least six months past the original doses and share at least one of the following characteristics:
- 65 or older.
- Have a health issue like cancer or diabetes that increases the risk of developing severe COVID.
- Work in a high-risk job such as healthcare, law enforcement, public safety, etc.
- Work in other fields such as teaching, media, public transit, or retail, that require frequent contact with the public at large.
- Live in communal housing, e.g. assisted living facilities, dorms or prisons.
For the J&J booster, you must be:
- 18 or older.
- At least 2 months past the original dose.
In an appearance on CNBC Friday morning, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that recipients of the J&J vaccine might consider getting either the Moderna or Pfizer booster.
While the J&J booster does what it is meant to do, he said, “The data show that folks who got Johnson & Johnson and got boosted with Moderna or with Pfizer had a really strong antibody response.”
But, he added, “If you’ve gotten Pfizer or Moderna and if you did well with your primary series, I think it’s quite reasonable to stick with what you’ve got originally.”
Where to Get a Booster
The boosters in North Carolina will not be provided in mass-operations facilities the way the original doses were. Instead, they will be available at doctors offices, pharmacies and healthcare facilities. To find a place offering the booster of your choice, you can visit the NC Department of Health and Human Services website and enter your zip code.
You can attest to your own eligibility and may need your original vaccine card, the NCDHHS says.
More developments are on the way. The CDC and Federal Food and Drug Administration are expected to give formal approvals of Pfizer vaccines for 5-11 year-olds as early as Nov. 3. According to data Pfizer released this week, the vaccine is 90% effective in preventing illness in that age group.
North Carolina health officials are making arrangements now for the decision.