Franklin County Health Dept. answers common questions about COVID-19 booster

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

As more Americans receive their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, some earlier recipients are now eligible to receive a third dose, also known as a booster. As with most aspects of the pandemic, there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation spread about the booster shot, so the Franklin County Health Department is hoping to help by answering a few common questions here. 

Question 1: What is a booster shot? 

Most people know that booster shots are given after the initial dose or doses of a vaccine, but not everyone knows exactly why we get them. Many vaccines require boosters; some are given several months after the initial dose, such as with the COVID-19 vaccine, while others require a waiting period of several years, like the diphtheria vaccine. Boosters are used to boost immunity, said Dr. Albert Shaw of Yale University. As Shaw told the Yale Medical Journal, "The concept is to prolong protective immunity, particularly if there is evidence that protection is waning after a period of time,” which was the case with the COVID vaccine. Medical professionals are also hoping that a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will help protect against the Delta Variant, which emerged after the vaccine first became available. "The current vaccines are still effective against the variants we are now seeing, particularly for protecting against serious illness that would require hospitalization or cause death. But if the virus evolves further and there is a worse variant, the vaccine could be modified,” Dr. Shaw said. 

Question 2: Who is eligible for the COVID-19 booster shot? 

The answer to this common question is complicated, Franklin County Health Department Director Brenda Pfizenmaier said. Currently, Pfizer is the only company whose booster vaccine has been approved by the FDA. The FDA is holding a meeting on October 14 to discuss approval of the Moderna booster, and if they pass it, the discussion will move on to the CDC for final approval. As for those who have received the Pfizer vaccine for their first two doses, not everyone is eligible to receive a booster at this time. There are several other requirements that must be met in order to receive a booster dose. Similar to how vaccine rollout began in the spring of 2020, boosters are only available to those 65 and older, or those 18 and older with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, heart conditions, or liver disease. Adults who work in high-risk settings such as healthcare workers, teachers, and grocery store employees are also eligible for the booster, as are those living in areas of high transmission such as shelters, group homes, or correctional facilities. If you meet these criteria and would like to receive a booster vaccine, the Health Department will be hosting a Pfizer clinic on October 20 at AdventHealth Ottawa. If the Moderna booster is approved by the FDA, there will likely be a vaccine clinic at Ottawa Middle School sometime later in the month, Pfizenmaier said. 

Question 3: How long after your second shot should you get the booster? 

According to the CDC, those who meet the above requirements and received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for a booster.

Question 4: What are the side effects of the booster?

"According to the CDC, side effects people report after getting a booster shot are similar to side effects after the two-shot series," said Pfizenmaier. Common symptoms include soreness, fatigue, and mild fever, but the majority of side effects are moderate, and complications are extremely rare. 

Question 5: Will a fourth (and even fifth) dose of the vaccine be needed in the future?

The answer to this is unknown at the time, Pfizenmaier said. So far, the FDA and CDC have only discussed a third dose of the vaccine, though it has been posited that people will need to get a COVID vaccine each year, similar to a flu shot. 

If you have any questions related to booster shots, vaccines or COVID-19 in general, you can contact the Franklin County Health Department at (785) 229-3530.