Should You Get a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster?

Aug 9, 2022

After nearly two years of fighting the COVID-19 virus around the world, health officials are still working to curb the virus’s spread. Millions of people around the globe have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including more than 190 million individuals in the United States by October 2021.

Vaccines have worked well against the virus, but officials are now recommending booster doses for some groups. For the 46 million fully vaccinated seniors across the United States, that means another shot may be in their future. Here’s what seniors should know about COVID-19 booster shots.

Why Are Boosters Important?

Research has shown that the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines may decrease over time. A couple of factors can lead to this:

  • A person’s immunity due to the vaccine could wane naturally after a while.
  • New variants, such as the Delta variant, develop over time as the virus spreads; the initial vaccine may have slightly lower effectiveness against new variants that emerge.

Booster shots have proven to improve immune responses and provide additional protection.

Does This Mean the Vaccine Didn’t Work?

Booster shots don’t mean that the original vaccine did not work. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccines have been very effective against the virus. Initial data showed mRNA vaccines were more than 90 percent effective against COVID-19, while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was about 70 percent effective.

While later studies have shown the effectiveness dropping slightly over time, they still have proven to protect well against severe illness and death in breakthrough cases. What’s more, booster doses appear to bring effectiveness back up to high levels.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is very effective and has protected seniors from serious illness and death,” says Jake Schlottman, administrator at Heritage Park Nursing Center and Heritage Court Assisted Living. “Getting a booster shot can help at-risk individuals maintain a good level of protection from the COVID-19 virus.”

Who Needs a Booster?

Booster shot recommendations differ, depending on which vaccine was initially received. A booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is authorized for anyone over age 18 and can be given at least two months after the first dose. For those who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines, a booster dose is authorized for certain at-risk groups as of October 2021. These groups include people age 65 and older, as well as individuals over age 18 at high risk for severe COVID-19 and people over age 18 who have a high risk of being exposed to the virus. The mRNA boosters can be given six months after the initial two-dose regimen was completed. Although these groups are authorized to receive a booster dose, they are still considered fully vaccinated if they choose not to get a booster.

Which Shot Should I Get?

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a mix-and-match approach to COVID-19 vaccine boosters, so a fully vaccinated individual can choose any of the three approved shots for a booster dose. This option not only makes getting a booster more convenient for people but has also been very effective in studies so far. Data from vaccine use in Europe showed people who got doses from different kinds of vaccines were very well protected, even as the Delta variant emerged. Experts also found that side effects were similar to those seen in previous vaccinations.

The COVID-19 virus and the authorized vaccines against it are still being studied, and health experts are constantly learning more. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get a booster shot to provide continued protection against the disease.