Published on December 16, 2021

A Look at COVID-19 Boosters

Explaining boosters and eligibility

COVID-19 boosters are now available to more people. What are these vaccines, exactly, and who should get them? Find out from Marcia Nelson, M.D., Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer: 

Suzie Lawry-Hall, podcast host: More people are now eligible to get their COVID-19 booster shots.  In late October the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Western State Scientific Safety Review Work Group recommended booster shots for people who received the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.  In September these same officials recommended booster shots for people who received the Pfizer vaccine.  But what are booster shots, who is eligible and when can you get yours?  Hello everyone I’m Suzie Lawry-Hall and I’m Enloe’s Community Outreach Manager.  I’m joined today with Dr. Marcia Nelson, Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer, to talk about just that. And with that, let’s get started.  Thank you Dr. Nelson so much for being here.  First off let’s just start with what are boosters?

Marcia Nelson, Chief Medical Officer: Boosters are a way to give our bodies more protection against COVID after we’ve had the original vaccines.  It’s the same medicine; it’s just at a different time so that we can have more protection.

SLH: Is the booster the same dose as before or is the booster different?

MN: Well people get two doses of the MRNA vaccines - the Pfizer and Moderna.  When people get a booster for the Pfizer, it’s the same dose.  When they get a booster for Moderna, it’s half the dose.

SLH: Oh, interesting. What about for Johnson and Johnson?  What’s the booster ratio for that one?

MN: The booster for the Johnson and Johnson is the same dose as the original.

SLH: Okay, got it, thank you.  So why is it important for us to get our boosters?

MN: We’ve done a lot of science, a lot of research into how long immunity lasts, with after an infection itself and after getting vaccinations. And we know that after a time the protection from the vaccines does decrease.  And so it’s really important just to boost that immunity, increase it after a period of time, and after six months for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so that we have better protection.

SLH: When you say better protection and keeping our immune system again boosted or robust and as we’re continuing to manage this virus, is that also true as we’re seeing new variants come through?

MN: Well given that we’ve only known about this new variant for a couple weeks, all of our information is early.  Right now we think that probably it will be even more important to get boosters because this new variant, the Omicron variant, has lots and lots of mutations.  A lot of changes in the part of the virus that’s attacked by the by the vaccines.  And so it’s really important that we have all the protection that we can and getting boosters helps us do that.

SLH: Thank you so much and you were just alluding to this but what are the requirements to get your booster shots? So who’s eligible and how do we go about doing that? 

MN: Well the good news is that recently it became a lot simpler.  If you’re 18 and over, you can get a booster. And you should get a booster. 

SLH: And when would you be eligible for that?

MN: You can get a booster of your Pfizer or Moderna six months or more after you’ve had your second shot.  You can get a booster after a J and J vaccine, two months or more after that.

SLH: And what about kids 12 and up are they eligible for boosters or what’s the update on that?

MN: At this point kids who are 12 up to 17 aren’t eligible for a booster.  But they are eligible to get a special additional dose if they’re immunocompromised - if they’re more prone to infections.  

SLH: Gotcha, that actually brings me to my next question, what is the difference between a booster and additional dose?

MN: It’s the same medicine, it’s just given earlier and to different people.  So these doses for the immunocompromised - the people who have weakened immune systems, like folks who have had certain organ transplants or people who are on certain medicines that make them more susceptible to infections - those are the folks who are eligible for this this third dose and that’s 28 days after the original dose.

SLH: Okay. Would you tell us a little about mix-and-match boosters?  What are those or why might someone consider this approach?

MN: The reason that mix-and-match is so important is because we want to make it easy, easy, easy for people to get their full vaccinations done.  And so whatever vaccine a person wants to get for that booster dose, they can get it. And it’s been studied and shown to be effective to do a mix-and-match.  They were doing it in Europe a long time before we were doing it here in the U.S.  And so once our FDA and CDC saw that the science was good and you still got protection, excellent protection with the mix-and-match approach. then they said yeah, it’s okay for us to do it also. 

SLH: So, Dr. Nelson, mix and matching, you explained it well although I still think the concept feels a little strange.  Is it as strange as it appears to be for those of us at home?

MN: I can understand that because we don’t usually just pick off the shelf some medicines and mix them up together.  But the mix-and-match concept really is something we’re comfortable doing in our everyday lives.  If you were to open up a lot of people’s medicine cabinets, you may see a bottle of Ibuprofen and a bottle of Naproxen or Advil and Aleve.  And people would feel comfortable saying, well, I have a headache I’m going to grab some Aleve. Or my knee’s sore, I’m going to grab some Advil.  Well that’s mixing and matching because Advil and Aleve are the same types of medicines - non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.  So they work very similarly, you get the same kind of results from them.  Some people have a preference for one or the other but it really doesn’t matter which one you choose.  So it’s the same thing with our vaccines.  All of them are going to be increasing our antibodies to the coronavirus.  And so it doesn’t matter after we finished our original vaccines which one we get boostered with.

SLH: Is the term being fully vaccinated, has that changed since boosters came in or is that still the same? 

MN: It’s still the same right now. I don’t know in the future if it will change but right now fully vaccinated means completing two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or the single dose of J and J.

SLH: Okay great, thank you.  How can people go about getting their booster?  How do we get that scheduled?

MN: Well, the best way is just to go online.  It’s really simple, you go to myturn.ca.gov and you can sign up there.  You can choose where you want to get it, when you want to get it and actually which vaccine you want to get.

SLH: Will we ever just get to just go back to normal?

MN: I hope so. The hard part, I think the frustrating part for all of us as we’re getting into two years on this pandemic is that the answer is no we can’t, we can’t completely go back to normal.  Because as Omicron has shown us things are changing just when we we’re thinking we were past the worry of the Delta variant, then comes Omicron and Omicron’s different.  We’re learning more about it all the time but for right now still we can’t let our guard down.  So for small family gatherings where everybody’s vaccinated you can celebrate with them.  Celebrate the holidays with them indoors.  If you know their vaccine status you don’t have to wear your masks. But when you’re out in public where still in our area unfortunately a lot of people haven’t even had their first vaccines, you still should be wearing masks when you’re in indoor settings with people.  And washing your hands well and just being mindful of staying home if you feel sick and getting a COVID test if you feel like you have anything that doesn’t feel healthy.

SLH: I love hearing you talk about the holidays.  It sounds like there could be some normalcy back in there.  One concern I do hear a lot since you’ve brought it up is for the kids who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. For example, I have a 4-year-old.  I have a lot of concern about the holidays and getting their grandparents sick.  Is that a reasonable concern or what are your recommendations about that?

MN: Our best protection for our little kids and for our grandparents who are going to be with our little kids is for us as adults and as kids five and over to be vaccinated.  Because that’s like putting this little bubble around our youngest children who can’t be vaccinated yet.  And so all we can do is the best we can do and the best we can do is for everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated.

SLH: Thank you Dr. Nelson for answering all of my questions.  Anything else you’d like to add before we sign off for today?

MN: I would just say get vaccinated, get your boosters and have a great holiday.

SLH: Thank you Dr. Nelson for being here and thank you so much for watching.  We hope you found this information helpful.  If you’re eligible for a COVID Booster be sure to book your appointment on MyTurn and if you want to hear more about COVID vaccines specifically vaccines for children 5 to 11, check out Enloe’s new podcast Health Matters.  We’ve placed this link to this episode in the comments field.  Until then we’ll see you in 2022, Happy Holidays.