How, where, and when to get your COVID-19 booster shot (2024)

Booster shots are here — for some Americans, at least.

US regulators have updated their recommendations as to who should get a third dose of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first authorized and recommended Pfizer boosters for people with a high risk of severe COVID-19 in September.

The FDA extended its authorization to include both Pfizer and Moderna boosters for all adults in November.

The CDC has also shifted its recommendation to urge that all vaccinated adults boost their protection against the Omicron variant. Anyone 18 or older who completed their Pfizer or Moderna series six months ago, or got their J&J shot at least two months ago, is not only eligible but encouraged to get an additional shot.

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Here's a rundown of how, where, and when to get a third shot based on your eligibility.

Who should get a booster shot, and when?

The FDA first authorized a third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine for people with severely weakened immune systems — including people receiving cancer treatment, those with advanced HIV infections, or organ transplant patients. Third doses are necessary for this group, experts say, since immunocompromised people don't develop the same protection from two shots as others do.

Scientists also agree that elderly people — those 65 years and older — require boosters, since their immunity from vaccines tends to wane more quickly than average.

But there's less consensus when it comes to the rest of the population.

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An independent group of advisors to the CDC recommended Pfizer boosters for nursing home residents, people 65 and older, and all adults with underlying medical conditions early on. The committee has not yet weighed in on boosters for the rest of the population.

Scientists do agree, however, that nobody needs a booster until at least six months after their second dose, or two months after a J&J shot.

How do you book a booster appointment?

Roughly 80,000 vaccination locations will offer boosters across the country, Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in September. For the most part, the shots are available at the same locations where people got their first and second doses — including pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. Many states have closed their large clinics and drive-through sites, though.

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Just like the first vaccines, booster shots are free.

"It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card, and you'll get a booster," President Joe Biden said last month. "No other ID, no insurance, no state residency requirement."

Both Walgreens and CVS are asking people to confirm that they meet either the FDA or CDC's eligibility requirements, though the pharmacies don't require specific documentation.

CVS said boosters will be available at 6,000 of its pharmacies and clinics starting in September.

Walgreens said people can book appointments over the phone or online. Eligible people can either bring their COVID-19 vaccine card to the appointment or provide evidence of their last two vaccine doses and receive a new card. (People who lost their cards can typically retrieve their record by contacting their state health department or the site where they got vaccinated.)

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What about those who got J&J?

People who got the Johnson & Johnson shot also need boosters, and they're welcome to mix and match them.

The FDA said J&J vaccine recipients can get a second dose of any of the authorized vaccines. Studies have shown that following a J&J vaccination with an mRNA booster from Pfizer or Moderna may lead to an even better immune response compared to a second dose of J&J.

Even before the agency came out with the authorization, some health experts who got the J&J shot "topped off" with a shot from Moderna or Pfizer.

But do we really need boosters?

For most people, there's no need to run to the pharmacy for a booster right away. Vaccines are still highly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

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"The real problem in this country is not that we need to boost the vaccinated — it's that we need to vaccinate the un-vaccinated," Dr. Paul Offit, who sits on the FDA's vaccine advisory committee, told Insider. "That's the problem. Until we do that, we're going to suffer in this country."

The World Health Organization also opposes any move to offer boosters to the general public while so many people in the world remain unvaccinated.

"It's too soon, really. There isn't enough evidence from enough countries around the world to suggest that the vaccines are indeed failing," Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist, said at a Physicians for Human Rights panel on Monday.

"The main goal of the vaccines is to prevent severe disease and death," she added. "The main goal is not to prevent infection."

How, where, and when to get your COVID-19 booster shot (2024)

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