FAQ: What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots

With the FDA and CDC approving Pfizer booster shots for certain parts of the population, there are a lot of questions about who is eligible and when they can get the shots. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know, based on information from the CDC and Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Who is eligible for a Pfizer booster shot right now?

  • Long-term care facility residents
  • People who are 65 or older
  • People who are 18 or older with underlying medical conditions, as defined by the CDC
  • People between the ages of 18 and 64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional setting

(For all of the above, boosters are only authorized if it has been at least six months after their second Pfizer dose)

What’s defined as an underlying medical condition?

While the CDC has not yet clarified what constitutes an underlying medical condition for the purposes of a Pfizer booster, in the past the list for those who need to take extra precautions for COVID-19 has included:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases, such as COPD, asthma, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension
  • HIV
  • Immunocompromised state
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight (BMI between 25 and 29) or obese (BMI of 30+)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease
  • Substance use disorder

Are those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine eligible for a booster right now?

No, but an FDA advisory committee did endorse half-dose Moderna booster shots for seniors and high-risk individuals on October 14. The FDA still needs to make a final decision. A recommendation has not been made yet on a possible Johnson & Johnson booster.

What’s the difference between a booster and a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine?

The booster is recommended for the eligible populations at least 6 months after the second dose, while a third dose has been approved for moderately to severely immunocompromised people aged 12 and older and is recommended for 28 days after the second dose. The booster is for people who built enough protection after being fully vaccinated but saw the protection decrease over time, while the third dose is for those who may not have been fully protected by the first two doses due to being immunocompromised.

Do the boosters mean the original vaccines don’t work?

No. Data collected around the country and locally continues to show the vaccines are effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 that lead to hospitalizations or death. However, with the Delta variant, there has been reduced protection against mild and moderate cases. The booster shots are planned to further elevate protection in the coming months.

Where can I get the booster shot if I qualify?

Ask your doctor about whether you qualify and where you can go. Some places, like HyVee, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, are now offering boosters at all of their locations.