There’s now an updated booster vaccine for COVID-19. We wanted to know what’s different about the updated booster shot and when to get it. So, we talked to Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, our COVID vaccine lead and a pediatrician and former emergency department doctor.
Dr. Mark, how is the updated booster shot different than the booster we had before?
The coronavirus changes into new variants over time. Moderna and Pfizer tailored the updated booster vaccines to protect against the variants that are circulating right now. It’s like the annual flu shot that targets the expected flu strains each flu season. The updated booster targets both the original virus strain and the most common current variants.
These updated booster vaccines use the same ingredients as their other COVID-19 vaccines, with one change to target the spike protein of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. We expect they’ll be better at protecting us from these current variants.
Many people in King County have had at least one vaccination, and lots of people have had COVID. Why should I consider getting an updated booster at this point?
We know people are really tired of dealing with COVID—I feel it too. But even if you have had a booster in the past, the updated boosters will provide the best protection we have from hospitalization and death. This is especially important for people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, including people who have weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions and for people over age 50. The risk of serious infection and dying go up with age.
Vaccination can also lower the risk for long COVID, which can lead to serious long term health problems. As summer is ending and we’re all heading indoors, it’s an important time to get the updated booster to prevent what could be another wave of COVID-19.
When should I get the updated booster if I’ve recently had COVID-19?
At a minimum, people should wait until they are fully recovered and don’t have symptoms from a recent infection before getting the updated booster. It’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider to discuss your individual circumstances that can help inform timing for the updated vaccine, such as if you are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. In general, if you recently had COVID-19, it’s reasonable to wait about three months before getting the updated booster.
Who can get the updated booster shots?
Everyone 12 years and older is eligible for an updated booster if it has been at least two months since completing the primary series of vaccine or receiving the last booster dose.
What if your last dose was a booster? Does it matter how many boosters you’ve already had?
No, if it’s been two months since your last dose, you can get the updated booster. It doesn’t matter whether that most recent dose was a primary dose or a booster dose, or how many boosters you’ve already had.
How has the updated booster vaccine been tested for safety?
The updated booster vaccines use the same basic formula as the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines that have been carefully tested in humans. Over 200 million people in the United States have safely received these vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history.
The updated Moderna and Pfizer booster vaccines use the same ingredients as their other COVID-19 vaccines, with one change to one of the proteins to target the Omicron variants. This was not a major change in the vaccine, so the same kind of large-scale studies weren’t done. However, as with all existing vaccines, these updated boosters will be monitored to see how effective the use of the different protein is at protecting against Omicron, as well as monitoring for safety.
What are the likely side effects of getting the updated booster?
Side effects after getting any of the COVID-19 vaccines can vary from person to person. They generally go away in a few days. After a booster, the most common side effects are fever, headache, fatigue (tiredness) and pain where you receive the shot. We don’t anticipate that the updated booster will have different side effects.
Where can people get the updated booster shots?
Local healthcare systems and pharmacies are starting to receive the boosters. We have them at our vaccination clinic at the Auburn Outlet Collection Mall (appointments and drop-ins welcome) and at our Eastgate Public Health Center. Updated boosters are free, and no insurance or proof of citizenship is required.
For more information about locations and appointments, visit kingcounty.gov/vaccine.
Contributor Meredith Li-Vollmer is a risk communications specialist at Public Health—Seattle & King County.
This article was originally posted in Public Health Insider on Sept. 7, 2022.
Click on the graphic image at top to view slides about booster shots. Slides are available in the following languages: አማርኛ (Amharic), العربية (Arabic), 简体字 (Chinese – Simplified), 繁體字 (Chinese – Traditional), دری (Dari), English, Français (French), ភាសាខ្មែរ (Khmer), 한국어 (Korean), Kajin M̧ajeļ (Marshallese), ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi), Русский (Russian), Af Soomaali (Somali), Español (Spanish), Wikang Tagalog/Filipino (Tagalog/Filipino), ትግርኛ (Tigrinya), Українська (Ukrainian), Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)