More Mainers can receive their COVID-19 booster shot after federal regulators voted this week to extend eligibility to people who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots and allow people to receive a different type of booster vaccine than they received for their original doses.
The decision by the Food and Drug and Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend boosters for more people comes amid concerns about waning vaccine protection in some people. While unvaccinated people continue to test positive and be hospitalized with COVID-19 at much higher rates than vaccinated people, infections among the vaccinated have ticked up in recent months.
The mix-and-match option will likely boost vaccination usage in the state. Maine has seen a recent uptake in shots with 68,000 people already getting a Pfizer booster since it was authorized for that use in mid-September.
It could slow the number of breakthrough cases in the state, which have affected only 0.71 percent of the fully vaccinated people here, by providing greater protection for people who have conditions making them more vulnerable to the virus. (For comparison, about 4.7 percent of not fully vaccinated people in Maine have contracted COVID-19 since early August.)
Here is what you need to know about getting a booster shot in Maine.
What does FDA’s ‘mix and match’ recommendation mean?
The FDA said Wednesday that people seeking a booster shot do not need to receive the same type of vaccine as they originally received for their first two doses (or single dose, for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). That means people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine could get a Moderna booster, or vice versa. Likewise, people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can pick from any of the three shots for a booster.
I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Should I get a booster?
Yes, the FDA is recommending boosters for recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months after their first shot regardless of age or whether they are considered at high risk for COVID-19. If you received your shot more than two months ago, you can schedule an appointment now. Under the new guidance, Johnson & Johnson recipients are eligible for a second dose of the same vaccine or a single booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots.
I got Pfizer or Moderna. Should I get a booster?
It depends. At this time, boosters are recommended for people who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines if it has been at least six months since they received their second shot of either vaccine and they are considered high risk for COVID-19.
The groups of people who are considered high risk by the U.S. CDC include everyone over the age of 65, people younger than 65 with medical conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19 and those living in congregate care settings or working in jobs that put them at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.
I am not currently eligible for a booster. Should I be worried?
The FDA and U.S. CDC are not currently recommending boosters for people who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and are younger than 65 with no underlying medical conditions or do not work in an environment where they have a high chance of exposure to COVID-19.
Health officials say that is because vaccine efficacy appears to generally be holding up in young people. But they are continuing to monitor the data and could authorize booster shots for all younger people if vaccine efficacy appears to be waning.
Is the booster the same as the original shot?
The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson boosters are the same as the original shot. The Moderna booster is only half the dose of the original Moderna vaccine. If you are seeking a booster vaccine, make sure the person administering it to you is aware that you have already been vaccinated to ensure you receive the correct dosage.
Is getting a different vaccine better than getting the same one?
Researchers are optimistic about the benefits of mixing and matching vaccines, but more data are needed. A study from the National Institutes of Health released Wednesday found that people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine saw greater antibody levels after receiving a Pfizer or Moderna booster compared with a Johnson & Johnson booster.
The study, which included 458 people and has not been peer reviewed yet, also found that people who originally received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine saw similar increases in antibody levels when they got the same shot as a booster or a different one.
OK, so where do I go for a booster?
Depends on which booster you want. You do not need to go to the same place you got your first shot, and many of the bigger pharmacies and hospitals are offering vaccines without appointments, although it is probably still easier to schedule one if you can. Not all vaccine sites are offering boosters right now, so make sure to check before you go.
Because the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson boosters are the same level as the original shot, most places offering either can probably help you out. If interested in a Pfizer booster, you can find out where it is available in the state.
This is all great for adults, but when will vaccines be authorized for kids younger than 12?
It’s likely to be pretty soon. A federal advisory panel for the U.S. CDC plans to meet in early November to discuss whether to grant vaccine approval for children ages 5 to 11. The White House is already gearing up to roll the program out, which could cover roughly 95,000 children, according to 2019 census estimates. School clinics, along with hospitals and pharmacies, will be the main avenues the state uses to get vaccines to a younger population.