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COVID-19 Vaccine Update: Booster Dose

By Bob Grenier, Pharm.D. December 21, 2021 Posted in: Coronavirus

In January 2020, the World Health Organization announced that there was a mysterious Coronavirus- related illness that had first been identified in Wuhan, China.  Since then this illness has spread resulting in a global pandemic; the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Spanish Flu more than a century ago. For almost two years, the world has been in some state of anxiety and upheaval from this novel viral illness.  The virus that causes COVID-19 sickness is notable for being easily spread and for its ability to cause grave illness and death. Fortunately, due to Operation Warp Speed, vaccines for the SARS COV2 virus, commonly known as COVID-19 were fast tracked and became available under Emergency Use Authorization on December 11, 2020.

Since this time, there have been more than 7.7 billion doses administered worldwide (453 million in the USA) with almost 43% of the world’s population fully vaccinated (59% in the USA).  Safety of the vaccine has been established with the incidence of serious adverse events at less than 1 percent.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic and the rise of variants of the SARS-COV2 virus, studies were conducted to determine if the protection provided by the vaccine following initial immunization was lasting.  These studies revealed that there was a significant reduction in immunity which could be enhanced with a booster dose.  As of November 19, 2021 the FDA has authorized a single dose booster for all individuals ages 18 and older which was followed by an announcement on December 9, 2021 that extended booster authorization to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Why should I get a booster?  Isn’t the initial vaccine series enough?

The immunity from the initial vaccine has tended to wane after six months. Studies have shown that a single dose booster of the vaccine for those who completed the initial vaccination at least six months prior will help provide continued protection against COVID-19.

Can I get a booster of a different vaccine product than my initial vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved mixing and matching booster doses for the COVID-19 vaccine.  In fact, some initial studies indicate that there may be additional protection provided by receiving a booster of a different product.  The most important thing is that those eligible get a booster dose.

Are there side effects from booster doses?

Side effects from COVID-19 booster shots have been similar to those experienced during the primary series.  These side effects may include fever, fatigue, headache, chills, and injection site soreness.  These side effects are mostly mild and short lived.  Experience suggests that those who experienced side effects from the initial series may be more likely to experience side effects from the booster.  

Will boosters be required in order to be considered “fully vaccinated”?

At this time, “fully vaccinated” status is not dependent on receiving a booster dose.  However, scientists and public health officials are leaning towards amending this.  With the development of variants and the continued status of the pandemic, optimal protection is dependent on booster doses.

Does the COVID-19 booster help to protect me against the known Delta and Omicron variants of the virus?

Although information is preliminary, experience so far seems to indicate that booster doses provide protection of up to a 25-fold increase over initial vaccination of severe illness for the Omicron variant.  As time goes on there will be additional data that will help us understand more about booster effectiveness against current and possible future variants.

Will I still need a flu shot this year since COVID-19 is more prevalent?

The FDA and CDC continue to recommend flu vaccine for all individuals 6 months of age and older.  In the past ten years, influenza has accounted for between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 52,000 deaths annually in the US. It is important to know that there is much evidence that flu vaccine helps prevents severe illness, hospitalization and death from influenza.  People with chronic diseases or with other risk factors are particularly vulnerable to effects of influenza.

Can I get the COVID-19 booster and my annual flu vaccine at the same time?

Vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 can be safely administered without regard to timing of the flu vaccine and other vaccines as well.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Bob Grenier, Pharm.D.
Bob Grenier, Pharm.D.

Bob Grenier, PharmD, is a Retail Pharmacy Manager at CHI Health.

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