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COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots: What You Need To Know

Written by 
Lacey Ramburger

Article at a glance

The CDC recommends everyone who is able should receive all of their COVID-19 vaccine(s), including updated vaccine shots

Updated shots do not necessarily need to be the same vaccine brand as the initial vaccines

The most recently updated vaccines target severe disease resulting from the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and dying [from COVID-19].” These vaccines have been safely received by hundreds of millions of people to help curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, there are three approved vaccines available in the US, including:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (mRNA vaccine)
  • Moderna vaccine (mRNA vaccine)
  • Novavax vaccine (protein subunit vaccine)

Note: Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine: (viral vector vaccine, only given in some situations) discontinued

Note: To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines, visit this source. For more information about specific vaccines, visit the sources below:

Where To Go To Receive The Updated Vaccine Shot

To receive an updated shot, there are a few different ways you can choose:

  • Ask your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or community health center, or visit their website. for an available vaccination site.
  • Contact your state health department.
  • Contact your local pharmacy or visit their website to see if vaccination appointments are available (some pharmacies may take walk-ins).

If you are homebound, there are resources available to help:

  • Call your local healthcare provider or state health department.

Contact advocacy groups targeted towards health services for homebound people, such as The Aging Network or the Disability Information and Access Line.

COVID-19 Booster Shot Q&A

Booster or Updated Vaccine—What is the Difference?

Previously, COVID-19 booster shots were recommended to boost immunity to help prevent contracting specific COVID-19 variants. As of 2023-2024, the CDC recommends an "updated COVID-19 vaccine" instead of a booster. These updated vaccines are meant to target severe illness and fatalities from the most recent Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant.

Changing the name to an updated vaccine is also in anticipation of having to update the formula annually, similar to flu vaccines, to protect against new strains.

Do You Need To Get An Updated Shot If You've Been Vaccinated?

It's strongly recommended by the CDC and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) that those who are able should strive to be up-to-date with their vaccinations (meaning receiving both a primary and booster vaccination, including the most recent updated vaccine dose). Receiving up-to-date vaccines is one of the most effective ways to avoid contracting COVID-19 especially given that immune response tends to fade over time.

Who Is Recommended To Receive The Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Shot?

Recommendations for the shot depend upon age, though overall, the CDC recommends that anyone who is able to receive their updated COVID-19 dose. For those who are immunocompromised, talking to your healthcare provider regarding your condition or serious illness should be done before receiving any doses.

Are The Updated COVID-19 Shots Safe?

According to the CDC, all vaccine development steps were taken to ensure vaccine safety and effectiveness. Clinical trials, FDA approval, and vaccine monitoring systems have all been implemented to ensure safety and efficacy.

For the updated vaccines, the CDC has monitored and evaluated their results since their emergency use authorization in December 2020, and were manufactured similarly to previous vaccines.

That being said, when receiving an updated shot, you may experience some side effects (similar to those you may experience with a flu vaccine), including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Pain at the injection site

Serious effects–including severe allergic reaction–are rare, but still possible. This is why people are required to sit and wait fifteen minutes after receiving their dose to ensure there are no adverse reactions.

Which COVID-19 Vaccine Dose Should You Get? (2023-2024 Update)

Three approved vaccines–Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax–have an available updated COVID-19 dose (Johnson & Johnson's Jannesen was discontinued in May 2023). In some cases, it's not necessary to get the same brand of booster as the initial two-dose primary series or one-dose primary series.

These are the updated COVID-19 vaccines you can get based on your initial vaccination(s):

Pfizer-BioNTech: can be Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

Moderna: can be Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna

Novavax: can be Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or Novavax

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen: can be Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Novavax

Note: Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccines expired in May of 2023 and are no longer available in the U.S. If you previously received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will need to receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine to be considered up to date.

When Should You Get The Updated Covid 19 Shot?

The timing of when a person should receive the Covid-19 booster depends on a few factors, including age, the brand of the initial vaccinations received, and current vaccination status.

The timing of when a person should receive the COVID-19 booster depends on a few factors, including age, the brand of the initial vaccinations received, and current vaccination status.

Those 6 Months-4 Years Old

  • Pfizer BioNTech: If only one previous dose was given, then two vaccine doses of the updated Pfizer BioNTech vaccine are required—the 2nd dose at 3-8 weeks after the 1st dose, and the 3rd dose at least 2 months after the 2nd dose.


    If two or more doses were given, only one dose of the updated vaccine is necessary and should occur 2 months after the last dose.

  • Moderna: If only one previous dose was given, then one vaccine dose of the updated Moderna vaccine is required at 4-8 weeks after the last dose.


    If two or more doses were given, only one dose of the updated vaccine is necessary and should occur at least 2 months after the last dose.

Those 5-11 Years Old

  • Pfizer BioNTech: Regardless of previous vaccination history (unvaccinated or previously vaccinated before September 13, 2023), one dose of the updated Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine should be received.
  • Moderna: Regardless of previous vaccination history (unvaccinated or previously vaccinated before September 13, 2023), one dose of the updated Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine should be received.

Those 12 Years Old and Above

  • Pfizer BioNTech: If you have received a COVID-19 vaccine prior to September 13, 2023, you should receive one updated Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
  • Moderna: If you have received a COVID-19 vaccine prior to September 13, 2023, you should receive one updated Moderna vaccine.
  • Novavax: If you have received a COVID-19 vaccine prior to September 13, 2023, you should receive one updated Novavax vaccine.

Unvaccinated Children Ages 5-11

Unvaccinated children are recommended to receive one updated dose of either Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

Unvaccinated Children and Adults Ages 12 and Above

Unvaccinated children or adults who have never received a COVID-19 vaccination are recommended to receive one updated dose of either the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or two doses of the Novavax vaccine.

2024 Update: When Are You Up To Date On Your COVID-19 Vaccines?

Currently, the CDC recommends getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine for the best chance of not contracting COVID-19. These vaccinations are being referred to as "updated vaccines" instead of boosters due to their specific target against severe disease, notably from Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant.

To stay up to date, it's possible you may need multiple doses depending on vaccination history, along with other factors. As of September 12th, 2023, you are considered up to date on your COVID-19 vaccine doses based on the following:

Children aged 6 months—4 years

You are up to date when you get all recommended doses, including at least 1 dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine.

Everyone aged 5 years and older

You are up to date when you get 1 updated COVID-19 vaccine.

People who got the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine

You are up to date when you get 1 updated COVID-19 vaccine.

Does Health Insurance Cover Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Shots?

This will vary depending on the insurance plan, but in most cases, health insurance plans cover the initial vaccinations, not an additional dose/booster. However, contact your health insurance provider for more information regarding what your plan covers.

FAQ

What is the latest COVID vaccine?

The current recommended vaccine is the updated 2023-2024 Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, or Novavax vaccines.

Are there severe allergic reactions associated with the updated COVID-19 vaccine?

While severe allergic reactions are rare, they are possible. Side effects such as itching, swelling at the injection site, fatigue, and dizziness are all possible.

Why should you keep up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations?

Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations prevents the spread and severity of COVID-19 variants. COVID-19 has a profound effect on respiratory health, as it can result in a weakened immune system. You could have a higher risk of contracting other respiratory illnesses, such as respiratory syncytial virus or influenza if your immune system is too weakened over time.

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