What to know about getting your COVID-19 booster shot
Thousands more Oklahomans are now eligible for a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine after federal health agencies approved the shots for people who were previously vaccinated with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
As we look ahead to the winter, it’s unclear whether we’ll see another wave of COVID-19 or how the flu season may look. To stay safe and keep people out of the hospital, experts suggest you get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you haven’t yet been, and to get a booster dose as soon as possible if you’re eligible.
Across Oklahoma, about 135,000 people have received booster doses or third doses, said Buffy Heater, assistant deputy commissioner with the state Health Department. About a million Oklahomans are eligible for boosters, per the Health Department’s calculations, she said.
Booster doses becoming available doesn’t mean COVID-19 vaccinations don’t work — it just means immunity wanes over time.
“We shouldn’t be surprised, because other vaccine preventable diseases have always required a series of doses: a priming series and then boosters down the road to really ramp up the immune system,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID-19 officer. “So I’m not surprised that we’re seeing that need with COVID vaccine.”
Here’s everything you need to know about getting a booster, including who’s eligible, when and where to get one, and what it means that you can now opt to get a different vaccine for your booster dose than what you got initially.
Eligibility for a booster dose depends on what vaccination you got initially.
If you were initially vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, here’s who can now get a booster dose if it’s been six months since they completed their initial series:
• People 65 and older
• People 18 and older who live in long-term care settings
• People 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions
• People 18 and older who live or work in high-risk settings
If you got Johnson & Johnson initially, and it’s been at least two months since your shot, it’s recommended that you get a booster.
Can you get a different booster dose than the vaccine you got initially? Should you?
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the green light for people to mix-and-match booster doses.
For example, if you initially got Moderna shots but want the Pfizer booster — or that’s all that’s available to you — you can do that. Same goes for the Johnson & Johnson — recipients of that vaccine could choose to get a Pfizer or Moderna dose if they want.
You also can choose to stick to the same vaccine you got initially.
So, which should you get? Any of them will offer a boost in protection, experts said.
“They all work, period,” said Dr. Mary Clarke, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. “It’s really about helping people be comfortable with whatever their choice is. And it’s OK if they want to switch or it’s OK, if they want to stay with what they have. We just got to get those boosters soon so we can get those antibodies back up.”
Some studies have shown that for people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a booster with either a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine “may be slightly more protective than if you just get boosted with J&J,” said Dr. Judith James, vice president of clinical affairs with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Heater, with the state Health Department, encouraged Oklahomans with questions about which vaccine to take as their booster to talk to their health care provider.
Are booster doses different from the initial vaccine dose?
For Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, no. Moderna vaccine boosters were authorized at a half-dose of the amount given for the initial vaccine series.
Where can you get booster doses?
Like the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can find booster doses at pharmacies, local health departments, grocery stores and other locations. To search for locations near you, visit vaccines.gov, or Oklahoma’s vaccine scheduling portal at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov.
The Oklahoma CityCounty Health Department is also hosting booster-specific vaccination events Monday and Wednesday. For details and to make an appointment, visit vaxokc.com or call 405-425-4489.
Why is it important to get a booster dose if you’re eligible?
“We are heading into flu season and pneumonia season, and so every
thing we can do to try and protect ourselves against some of the things that make people get hospitalized more over the wintertime — this is one thing that they can do,” said James, the physician-scientist with OMRF.
A booster dose can also dramatically decrease the risk of having a symptomatic case of COVID-19, being hospitalized or dying of the virus, James said.
People with high-risk medical conditions especially should consider a booster, she said.
Bratzler, with OU, stressed the importance of booster doses, too, citing Oklahoma data on breakthrough COVID-19 hospitalizations: 95% of fully vaccinated people who wind up in the hospital with COVID-19 are over 50, and 75% are over 65, he said.
tions dramatically reduce the likelihood that someone will end up hospitalized with the virus, but it does happen occasionally, especially in older populations.
“We had great uptake of the COVID vaccines in the elderly in Oklahoma, but we’re not there yet with booster doses,” he said. “We need to make sure that our elderly understand how important it is that they get their booster doses.”
The more vaccinated our communities are — booster doses included — it can be harder for COVID-19 to spread and mutate.
“It’s not just protecting today, we’re also trying to prevent the emergence of these nasty variants that may be coming down the road,” said Clarke, with the state medical association.