8 questions about COVID booster shots, answered
Will the Food and Drug Administration advise Americans to get COVID-19 booster shots? A FDA committee is expected to discuss the idea on Sept. 17. PolitiFact addresses eight common questions about the shots.Posted — Updated
Booster shots are a key piece of President Joe Biden’s plan to beat the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the White House, Biden said boosters are "likely to provide the highest level of protection yet."
Until that happens, here’s what we know about the basics of boosters.
Why are boosters needed?
Public health leaders voice particular concern about the more infectious delta variant. While all three vaccines approved for use in the U.S. do a good job of keeping people out of the hospital and preventing deaths, the delta variant produces so much virus so quickly, that even vaccinated people can get ill.
Will boosters work?
Again, the numbers are preliminary, but some initial research is promising.
At a September press briefing, leading U.S. epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said this and other reports out of Israel "support, very strongly, the rationale for such an approach."
The concept of boosters is well established. They are part of the normal vaccination schedule for diseases such as tetanus and a number of childhood diseases.
Who should get a booster and when?
That applies to people without any special conditions. The eight-month wait is based on how long the initial protection is expected to be robust. The actual eligibility criteria will be set by the government when, as is expected, a round of booster shots are approved.
This is aimed at people receiving active cancer treatment, transplant recipients taking immunosuppressant drugs, and others whose immune systems are specifically at risk.
Technically, the additional dose available for these candidates is not a booster. But given that it is a third shot, it’s easy to see why many people wouldn’t see the distinction. The difference is the timing.
Unlike the booster for otherwise healthy people which could have an eight-month wait, the government recommends the additional dose as soon as one month after completing the initial two-shot series.
When boosters open up for the general population, the CDC says the first in line to receive it will be those who were first for the initial doses: healthcare providers, residents of long-term care facilities and other older adults.
Where do boosters stand in the approval process?
Pfizer and Moderna were the first to submit data to regulators, and their vaccines are the furthest along in the vetting process run by the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
"It is conceivable that we will only have one of them out, but the other will likely follow soon thereafter," Fauci said.
The FDA is also looking at data from Johnson & Johnson, but it is unclear when it will make a decision.
Is a booster the same as the initial vaccination?
For now, yes. In the future, Pfizer and Moderna, with their mRNA approach, could adjust their vaccines fairly quickly to account for new variants or other issues. But for now, any booster will have the same ingredients, dosages and storage requirements as the initial shots.
Will there be enough vaccine boosters for Americans who want them?
Biden said there would be plenty of boosters.
"We’ve bought enough … booster shots, and the distribution system is ready to administer them," he said Sept. 9.
Is it safe to switch from Pfizer to Moderna, or vice versa, for the booster shot? And what are the Johnson & Johnson options?
People who got the Johnson & Johnson shot face a different choice.