As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on and the Omicron variant continues to spread like wildfire, it’s no surprise that there’s still a ton of confusion surrounding guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, particularly related to the vaccines and booster shots. Since a majority of people began getting vaxxed nearly a year ago at this point, along with the untimely presence of the new Omicron variant, the CDC is now recommending a booster shot for everyone who was vaccinated in the past five months or longer with the Pfizer or Moderna series, as well as those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the past two months.
“Vaccines are working incredibly well to protect from serious disease; the proof is in the hospital data,” says Sunaina Suhag, M.D., a family medicine physician at Austin Regional Clinic in Austin, Texas. “By and large, most people needing to go to the hospital with serious symptoms due to Covid are unvaccinated. That means vaccines are doing what we want them to do — keep people out of the hospital.”
However, the CDC barely started recommending boosters for everyone before its messaging seemingly got lost in the chaos surrounding the rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations around the country. So if you’ve got questions about the booster, such as if you’re eligible, if you can mix and match between manufacturers, and if you should be concerned about side effects, well, we’ve got answers to all of them.
First off, what exactly is a booster shot?
A Covid booster shot is an additional dose of the vaccine, which is meant to be administered after the original protection from the Covid vaccine weakens so that it can help you maintain sufficient immunity.
“The rationale for a booster is that there is some evidence that vaccine effectiveness begins to wear off,” explains Dr. Suhag. “A booster helps maintain immunity to fight off serious symptoms. Some studies have pointed to waning immunity around five to six months after a completed vaccines series, and this data was evaluated by the FDA when they recommended boosters for adults and, recently, children over 12 years old.”
The formulation of the booster shots is the same as the current Covid-19 vaccines, though the Moderna booster is actually half the dose of the vaccine given in the initial series. As such, if you’re still completely unvaccinated, you should start with the primary series first. If you’re 18 or older and received the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson shot, the CDC says it’s safe to receive boosters by any of the three manufacturers. Teenagers who are 12 to 17 years old and received the Pfizer vaccine should receive a booster from the same brand.
What are the most common booster side effects?
According to Dr. Suhag, booster side effects are likely to be similar to whatever you may have experienced when you received a Moderna, Pfizer or J&J vaccine. This may mean you end up feeling nothing at all, or you may experience a reaction with symptoms such as:
- Pain at the injection site
- Muscle pain
“I recommend planning your day (and the next day) with the assumption that you won’t feel 100% for at least 24 hours,” Dr. Suhag says.
Why do some people get side effects and others don’t?
Did you feel completely wrecked after receiving one or more of your doses, while your partner felt as good as ever? This was actually a common scenario for many people. The good news is that it doesn’t mean you’ll fare any better or worse than someone else if you come down with a breakthrough infection.
“Some people experience side effects and others may not – this is because each of our immune systems is unique,” Dr. Suhag says. “Our symptomatic response to a vaccine can be affected by our age, our sex, or medical history. Rest assured that your body will build up the desired immunity whether you experience body aches after your vaccine or not.”
The bottom line: Just like with the original vaccine, there’s a good chance you’ll feel crappy in the 24 hours after receiving your booster. It’s a small price to pay compared to potentially being hospitalized with a severe case of Covid. So if you haven’t gotten your initial doses or booster yet, go ahead and schedule them today.
Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor.
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