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7 questions about COVID-19 booster shots

A standing woman smiles down at a seated man.

Oct. 11, 2021—The rollout of booster shots for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine might naturally raise some questions. Here's a closer look at some things you might want to know if you're weighing your options.

Q. Who is eligible?

A. Boosters are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the vaccine for people in high-risk groups. That includes:

  • People 65 and older.
  • People 18 and older who live in long-term care settings.
  • People 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions.
  • People 18 and older who live or work in high-risk settings.

Q. What settings and jobs are high risk?

A. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that includes places such as healthcare facilities, schools, public transit, prisons and homeless shelters. Also eligible: essential workers such as first responders, teachers, food workers, mail carriers, public transit workers and grocery store staff.

Residents in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, also qualify. That's because these places often involve people who are living close together and have underlying health issues that put them at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

Q. If I qualify, how soon can I get a shot?

A. Booster shots are available now at most pharmacies and vaccines clinics across the country. Check your local pharmacy or clinic to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins may be welcome too.

Q. What are the expected side effects from a third shot?

A. In trials, the side effects of the booster shot were the same as the first two doses of the vaccine. That included things like:
  • Pain in the injection area.
  • Joint and muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.

Q. Will I still be considered fully vaccinated if I don’t get a booster shot?

A. Yes, for now. CDC says everyone who has received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still considered fully vaccinated. That guidance may evolve over time.

Q. What if I got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

A. Boosters are only available for the Pfizer vaccine right now. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel has recommended booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, so those may be available soon. In the meantime, CDC doesn't recommend that you mix and match vaccines.

Q. What if I want a booster shot, but I’m not in any of the recommended groups?

A. Rest assured that your vaccine is still working to protect you. In time, more people may have a chance to get a booster shot. But for now, it isn't recommended for you. Keep using all your strategies to stay safe, including wearing a mask when appropriate and washing your hands often.

For more helpful information, please visit our Coronavirus health topic center.

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