After first recommending that people in certain groups get a COVID-19 booster and then indicating that people 18 and older can receive a COVID-19 booster, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now strongly recommends that all adults 18 and older receive a COVID-19 booster. But what are the side effects of COVID-19 boosters?
Last week, the CDC released a statement from executive director Rochelle Walensky, MD, saying that the organization is “strengthening” its recommendation for these additional doses. “The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further highlights the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” Walensky said. “Early data from South Africa suggests increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently investigating vaccine efficacy with regard to this variant.”
If you are planning to get a COVID-19 booster, you probably have some questions about how it will affect you and whether you will experience side effects. Here’s what you need to know.
Who should get a COVID-19 booster shot?
Updated guidelines from the CDC say anyone 18 and older who has completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series should receive a booster shot after a certain period of time has passed. The exact amount of time varies depending on the type of vaccine you received the first time.
If you had a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the CDC recommended getting a booster dose after at least six months have passed since you got your second shot. If you have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get a booster if it has been at least two months since you had your primary series.
As for what shot to get for your booster, the CDC says it’s up to you. You can get a booster dose of the original vaccine you received or another booster.
“If you’re 18 or older, go get a boost,” Anthony Fauci, MD, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told MSNBC last month. “We are entering the winter season; the weather will be colder, people will be indoors, they circulate virus around. We are now seeing an increase in some cases.”
Okay, but why do I need a booster shot?
Data suggests that immunity to COVID-19 vaccines begins to decline after a period of time.
“The available data make it very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decline over time after the initial doses of vaccination, and in combination with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are beginning to provide evidence showing reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” officials of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (including Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci) wrote in August.
“Based on our latest assessment, current protections against major illness, hospitalization and death could decline in the coming months, especially among those at higher risk or who were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” the announcement said. . “We therefore conclude that a booster injection will be required to maximize vaccine-induced protection and extend its durability.”
A study of public health data from Israel released in July estimated that the Pfizer injection was 39% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection in humans in June and early July, compared with 95% efficacy from January to early. April. (It’s important to note, however, that the vaccine was still more than 90% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 in humans in June and July.)
Data shared by the CDC also clearly shows that the vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19 declines over time, with the exact declines varying by age and type of vaccine people have received. However, data on booster shots has shown that the extra dose can help prevent people from getting symptomatic COVID-19.
“There are still many cases of COVID-19 and getting vaccinated, along with wearing a mask and social distancing, will reduce your risk of getting COVID-19,” says Richard Watkins, MD, infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
What should you bring to your appointment for a booster shot?
The CDC recommends that you bring your COVID-19 vaccination card to your appointment so that your vaccine administrator can fill out your booster dose information. And if you didn’t receive a card at your original appointments or if you’ve lost it, the CDC suggests contacting the site where you got your first injection or your health department to find out how to get your card. to get.
Otherwise, it’s a good idea to wear a mask to your appointment to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 while you’re there, says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. . (Note: Some vaccination sites require you to be masked on the premises anyway.)
What are the possible side effects of the COVID-19 booster?
In general, experts suggest that the side effects of the booster injection will be “mild,” if you even experience them, says Dr. Watkins. “In general, people feel the same as how they felt after they got their second injection,” says Dr. russo. He also stresses that the side effects you experience — or don’t experience — do not correlate with your immune response to the vaccine.
A CDC study published in September found that people had similar responses to a third dose of the mRNA vaccine compared to what they had during their original vaccine series. Side effects generally include:
- Pain at the injection site
“These initial findings do not indicate unexpected patterns of side effects after an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” the study says, noting that most side effects were “mild or moderate.”
Also worth noting: Pfizer said in a press release that the side effects of the COVID-19 booster were “comparable to or better than after dose two of the primary series.” This means you shouldn’t have worse side effects than with your first two COVID-19 vaccines.
Data submitted by Moderna to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that these were the most common side effects in people who received a booster dose:
- Pain at the injection site
- Muscle or joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
“Notably, swollen lymph nodes in the forearm were observed more frequently after the booster dose than after the primary series of two doses,” the FDA says online.
FDA data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shows these are the most common side effects of the company’s booster:
- Pain at the injection site
- Swelling at the injection site
What should you do if you have side effects from the COVID-19 booster?
The good news is that they usually don’t last long. “Symptoms usually go away within a day,” says Dr. Watkins. If you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms or if you’re generally uneasy, Dr. Russo recommends taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) for relief.
But if you find you’ve developed symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell, Dr. Russo to get you tested for COVID-19. While you can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine, it’s possible you were infected with the virus before your booster shot started, he says.
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