People in the US who got the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible for a booster shot eight months after their second dose.
J&J vaccine recipients are still waiting for further guidance.
Here’s how to get a booster once it’s time.
See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Americans who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine will be eligible for a booster shot – a third dose – eight months after their second dose, health officials announced Wednesday.
The national rollout will begin on September 20, assuming the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the shots by then, though immunocompromised people are already able to get boosters.
“Our approach on booster shots is simple, and it’s consistent with our approach on every other front of this war: Be guided by the science, and always, always stay one step ahead of the virus,” White House official Jeff Zients said at a briefing on Wednesday.
That science suggests that vaccine protection wanes over time, particularly in the face of the Delta variant. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that vaccines are highly effective against severe disease for up to six months. But some research indicates that Delta can partially evade vaccine-induced antibodies. Several recent studies have shown that a third dose may help maintain a high level of protection.
Here’s a rundown of how, where, and when to get a booster shot based on your eligibility.
Who is eligible for a booster shot, and when?
Some people with weakened immune systems are already authorized to get a third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, since they don’t develop the same protection from two shots as others do. This group includes people receiving cancer treatment, those with advanced HIV infections, or organ transplant patients.
Then starting September 20, healthcare workers and elderly or otherwise vulnerable people will be among the first eligible for boosters, since they were the first to get their initial shots. Those groups were prioritized based on frequent exposure to the coronavirus or high risk of developing severe disease. Since they’ve been vaccinated the longest, their protection may already be less effective. Additionally, older folks may not have had as strong of an immune response to their first shots as younger people did.
But once any person hits the eight-month mark after their second Moderna or Pfizer shot, they will be eligible for a third dose.
How do you book a booster appointment?
Roughly 80,000 vaccination locations will offer boosters across the country, Zients said Wednesday. For the most part, the shots will be available at the same locations where people got their first and second doses – including pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, which have already started distributing boosters to immunocompromised people. Many states have closed their large vaccination clinics and drive-through sites, though, so people who got shots there will need to find new locations.
Just like the first course of vaccines, booster shots will be free.
“It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card, and you’ll get a booster,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “No other ID, no insurance, no state residency requirement.”
For their part, major pharmacies haven’t specified whether they’ll require people to bring their CDC vaccination cards or other proof in order to get a booster. Still, people who lost their cards can typically retrieve their record by contacting their state health department or the site where they got vaccinated.
A Walgreens spokesperson told Insider that for now, their pharmacies are only accepting same-day walk-ins for third doses at select stores, since the shots are reserved for immunocompromised people. These individuals have to bring their vaccination card to appointments.
Around 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations are also accepting walk-ins right now, with plans to open up online scheduling for booster shots soon. The pharmacies require immunocompromised people to sign a form confirming their health status, a Walmart spokesperson said. The chain’s website also asks immunocompromised people to bring their insurance cards to their appointments.
A CVS spokesperson similarly told Insider that immunocompromised people must confirm their health status when scheduling an appointment, then again at the time of their vaccination.
Kroger, meanwhile, said immunocompromised people simply self-declare their health status, and that it’s preferable to bring along one’s vaccine card.
What about those who got J&J?
People who got the Johnson & Johnson shot will likely need booster shots in the future, but officials are still evaluating data on that vaccine.
The company has said its jab offers “strong” protection against the Delta variant and other variants of concern.
Still, some health experts who got the J&J shot have “topped off” with a shot from Moderna or Pfizer, even though that approach goes against official recommendations.
But do we really need boosters?
For most fully vaccinated Americans, there’s no need to run to the pharmacy as soon as boosters become available.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you still have a high degree of protection against the worst outcomes of COVID-19: severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at Wednesday’s briefing. “We are not recommending that you go out and get a booster today.”
Some experts have said that even at the eight-month mark, it won’t be time for boosters yet.
“The real problem in this country is not that we need to boost the vaccinated – it’s that we need to vaccinate the un-vaccinated,” Dr. Paul Offit, who sits on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told Insider. “That’s the problem. Until we do that, we’re going to suffer in this country.”
The World Health Organization opposes any move to boost vaccinated people while so many people in the world remain unvaccinated.
“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” Dr. Mike Ryan, the director of the WHO’s health emergency program, said on Wednesday.