Key Takeaways

  • COVD-19 vaccine booster shots have been authorized for certain people who have moderately or severely weakened immune systems, also known as being immunocompromised.

  • The Biden administration may soon advise vaccinated persons to get a booster shot eight months after their second shot for added protection as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the U.S.

  • No prescription or other kinds of documentation from doctors showing you have are immunocompromised will be required.

Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized the use of an additional dose or booster of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna for individuals with certain conditions that weaken or compromise their immune systems. The reason that this booster dose is needed is that these individuals do not get enough protection against COVID-19 from the recommended two doses of the vaccines.

Recent research shows that up to one-half of immunocompromised people who didn’t develop antibodies or immune protection after two doses do get some level of protection after a third dose.

However, the FDA stressed that even after a third dose, people who are immunocompromised will still need to wear masks indoors, stay six feet apart from others, and avoid crowds. Also family members and other close contacts should be fully vaccinated to protect these persons.

This new authorization does not apply to the one dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which has been used less frequently in the U.S. The FDA is still exploring updating its authorization about the Johnson & Johnson to determine if boosters will be necessary for immunocompromised individuals.

People who qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine booster dose are the following:

  • Those who have had organ or stem cell transplants, such as kidney or liver transplants, and take immunosuppressant treatments so that their bodies do not reject the transplants or cells
  • People receiving treatment for blood cancers
  • Those with rare genetic disorders that cause their immune systems from working properly
  • Individuals with advanced or untreated HIV
  • People on dialysis
  • Those with certain chronic medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease and asplenia (living without a spleen)
  • Individuals taking high dose corticosteroids, chemotherapy (drugs used to treat cancer), and medications that suppress the immune system

These groups all have or are at risk for weakened immune systems and therefore need the added dose, especially in light of the more contagious Delta variant that is spreading across the U.S. Approximately 7 million adults fall into one or more categories above and are at higher risk of breakthrough infections, being hospitalized or dying if they get COVID-19. They are also more likely to transit the infection to others.

At this time, the new authorization for a third or booster dose is not intended for people whose immune system has decreased with age such as what happens with many other adults, especially those in nursing homes, or for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes.

When can you get the COVID booster shot?

The third dose can be given 28 days or more after the second vaccine shot. For people who received either Pfizer or Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, a third dose of the same vaccine should be used. If the mRNA vaccine given for the first two doses is not available or is unknown, either mRNA COVID-19 vaccine product may be administered. A person should not receive more than three mRNA vaccine doses.

What are the requirements for getting a COVID booster shot?

An honor type system will be used for those who meet the categories listed above. No prescription or other kinds of documentation from doctors showing you have are immunocompromised will be required for people to get the third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. If you meet one of the categories above, you should bring your COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card with you when requesting the vaccine at a pharmacy, clinic, or other vaccination site. This is the card you received when you got your first shot and indicates the type of vaccine you received and dates of the first and second shots.

If you are uncertain if you are eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine, check with your primary care physician or other doctor if you are being treated for cancer or other conditions that compromise your immune system.

When will the COVID booster shots be available?

The CDC is also considering the use of boosters for people whose immunity might have decreased since they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Older adults are of particular concern because 74% of breakthrough COVID-19 cases are among those 65 and over. Breakthrough cases are expected because no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people. The boosters would provide added protection for those at greatest risk for breakthrough infections.

Further, recent reports indicate that the Biden administration may soon advise vaccinated persons to get a booster shot eight months after their second shot for added protection as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the U.S. The first people to receive this booster would be those in nursing homes, healthcare and emergency workers, and then older adults who were vaccinated this past winter. These booster shots could begin as early as mid-September.

Additional information about the COVID-19 booster shots can be found on the CDC’s website.