Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends COVID-19 booster shots for everyone 65 years of age and older. All adults, 18 years of age and over, may also now get booster shots.

  • COVID-19 booster shots are also recommended for people 18 years of age and over who reside in long-term care settings like nursing homes, have underlying medical conditions, and work or live in high-risk settings.

  • Maximum protection against COVID-19 through vaccine boosters is vitally important as we head into the winter months.

An important step forward in the fight against the coronavirus happened on Nov. 19, 2021 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines for persons aged 18 years of age and over. The CDC had previously recommended boosters for people aged 65 and over, as well as those 18 years and over with certain conditions. Millions of people are now eligible to receive a booster shot and will benefit from additional protection.

If you have not yet received your first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, that is your first, most important step in protecting yourself from COVID-19 illness, hospitalization, and death. Available data right now show that all three COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized in the U.S. continue to be very effective and safe in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even against the highly contagious Delta variant.

Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself and reduce the spread of the virus and help prevent new variants from developing.

Am I eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster shot?

Boosters are recommended for all three available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. The following table summarizes who should get the boosters:

  Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen
You should get the booster if you are
When to get a booster At least 6 months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series At least 2 months after your shot.
Which booster should you get? Any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States Any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States can be used for the booster dose.

Are the booster shots the same as the original vaccine shots?

Yes. COVID-19 booster shots are the same formulation as the current COVID-19 vaccines. However, in the case of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, it is half the dose of the vaccine people get for their primary shot. 

What does booster shot “mix and match mean?

Persons eligible for a booster may choose from the three vaccines which vaccine they receive as a booster dose. Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of “mix and match” dosing for booster shots. If you are unsure which vaccine to get as a booster, check with your primary care physician or pharmacist.

When can I get my COVID-19 booster dose?

If you're an adult and it has been six months or more since your last Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna dose, you can receive your booster dose from your pharmacy, physician’s office, or vaccine clinic, such as those at local health departments. If you received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine initially, you can get your booster anytime two months after your initial dose.   

What conditions compromise the immune system?

People who are immunocompromised are at particularly high risk for COVID-19 and need to be fully vaccinated, including getting the booster. People who are immunocompromised include the following:

  • Those who have had organ or stem cell transplants, such as kidney or liver transplants, and take immunosuppressant treatments so that their bodies do not reject the transplants or cells
  • People receiving treatment for blood cancers
  • Those with rare genetic disorders that cause their immune systems from working properly
  • Individuals with advanced or untreated HIV
  • People on dialysis
  • Those with certain chronic medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease and asplenia (living without a spleen)
  • Individuals taking high dose corticosteroids, chemotherapy (drugs used to treat cancer), and medications that suppress the immune system.

You can read more about conditions that weaken or compromise immune systems and the CDC's recommendations in its September 24 update by clicking here.

How do I get my booster shot?

At your first vaccination appointment, you should have received a vaccination card that tells you which COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it. If you still have this card or a photo of the card, bring this vaccination card to your booster dose appointment. Booster shots can be obtained at pharmacies, physician’s office, vaccine clinics in different settings, including through local health departments. If you do not have the card or a photo, that is fine since the CDC has approved of mix and match of COVID-19 boosters. Check with your pharmacy or doctor’s office about convenient locations to get your booster.

Will I have any side effects from the booster shot?

You may experience side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. These are normal signs that your body is building protection against COVID-19.  Side effects may include soreness in your arm at the injection site, swelling and redness of your arm, armpit and other areas, feeling tired, headache, muscle aches, chills, fever, and nausea or stomach upset.

How to plan ahead to get your COVID-19 booster shot 

Don't hesitate to get your booster shot. If the time for your booster is now or coming over the next few weeks and months, plan now for where and when you will get your booster. Maximum protection against COVID-19 through vaccine boosters is vitally important as we move into the winter months.

Additional information about the COVID-19 booster shots can be found on the CDC’s website.

This article was written  on Nov.  28, 2021 with the latest public health information at the time of publication. Read the most up-to-date  article from NCOA on COVID and older adults.