Ashish Jha, the White House's coronavirus coordinator, said last week that the new boosters are an “important milestone," and that Americans should begin thinking of Covid boosters like a flu shot. (Flu shots and Covid shots can be administered at the same time.) Jha added that an annual coronavirus shot should provide a “high degree of protection against serious illness all year.”
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the the use of updated Covid-19 boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for people ages 12 years and older and from Moderna for people ages 18 years and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also endorsed the use of the boosters.
The new boosters specifically target the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, the most prevalent strains of Covid in the U.S. right now and the ones that are expected to be in circulation this winter. According to data from The New York Times, case counts and hospitalizations are continuing to decrease throughout the U.S., but about 500 Americans are still dying from Covid-19 every day.
Booster shots are available at pharmacies including CVS, Walgreens, Publix and more; visit your preferred store's website to schedule your appointment. In the meantime, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the new boosters.
Who can get the booster right now?
People 18 years of age and older are eligible for a single booster dose of the Moderna vaccine if it has been at least two months since they've completed primary vaccination or two months since they've received the most recent approved booster dose.
People 12 years of age and older are eligible for a single booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it has been at least two months since they've completed primary vaccination or two months since they've received the most recent approved booster dose.
What's different about this booster?
First, some background: The new boosters are the first updates to the original Covid vaccines that became available at the end of 2020. They use the same messenger RNA (mRNA) technology as the original vaccines, which teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies.
According to the FDA, the new bivalent vaccines contain two mRNA components of the Covid virus: one of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the other one "in common between the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2."
It's also important to note that the updated bivalent vaccines contain a lower dose of mRNA, so they're only meant to be used as boosters in people who have already been vaccinated—not in those who have never received a Covid vaccine.
I've been vaccinated and boosted already. Why do I need another booster?
Covid-19 vaccines help protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death from Covid-19. As the virus changes and your immunity naturally decreases over time, you may lose some of that protection. That's why boosters are available.
In other words, the original vaccines are now unable to adequately prevent reinfection and ensure long-term protective immunity against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, so the vaccines needed to be reformulated.
So what happens to the previously authorized monovalent booster doses?
The FDA has removed the authorization for the use of the original Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as boosters in individuals 18 years of age and older (Moderna) and 12 years of age and older (Pfizer).
What side effects might I have from the booster?
According to the FDA, people who receive a bivalent Covid-19 vaccine may experience side effects similar to those commonly reported by individuals who receive authorized or approved monovalent mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.
Will the booster give me Covid?
In short, no—and neither will the primary series of vaccines.
It's important to remember that mRNA Covid-19 vaccines cannot give someone Covid-19 or other illnesses. The mRNA vaccines do not use any live virus and cannot cause infection with the virus that causes Covid-19 or other viruses.
They also do not affect or interact with our DNA. The mRNA from these vaccines does not enter the nucleus of the cell where our DNA (genetic material) is located, so it cannot change or influence our genes.
When will kids under 12 be able to get the new booster?
In the coming weeks, CDC expects to recommend updated Covid-19 boosters for other pediatric groups. When data is available and the FDA authorizes these other types of Covid-19 boosters, CDC will move to help make them available in the U.S.