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Boosters vs. Third Doses: What’s the Difference?

COVID-19 vaccine boosters have been approved by the FDA and CDC, but what is a booster? A COVID-19 vaccine booster is a lower dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently approved for use in the U.S. Vaccines that are currently approved in the U.S. include the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. And when getting your booster, it is OK to receive a different COVID-19 vaccine for your booster than what you got for your first round of vaccination!

A booster dose is different than a third dose. A third dose is an additional full dose of any of the U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccines. Third doses are specifically meant for folks who are immunocompromised or who have underlying health conditions and are given at the same time as your first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Who is Eligible to Receive a Booster Dose and When Can You Get a Booster?

According to the CDC, you are eligible for a booster if you received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it has been at least 6 months after completing your first vaccine series and you:
Are 65 years and older
Are 18 and older and living in a long-term care setting
Are 18 and older and have underlying medical conditions
Or are 18 and older and work in a high-risk setting.

According to the CDC, people who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and are 18 years and are eligible to receive a booster shot at least 2 months after receiving their Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose.

Whitman-Walker Health's Max Robinson Center in historic Anacostia in southeast D.C. (Courtesy of Whitman-Walker Health)
Whitman-Walker Health’s Max Robinson Center in historic Anacostia in southeast D.C. (Courtesy of Whitman-Walker Health)

What qualifies as an underlying health condition?

If you have any of the following health conditions or identify as immunocompromised, please consider getting a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. You can read a more detailed list of underlying conditions at CDC.gov. Folks who have:

Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood

Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system

Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system

Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)

Advanced or untreated HIV infection

Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

Should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them.

For boosters, the criteria are more expansive. The CDC states that the following people should consider a booster for the following conditions:

Cancer
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic liver disease
Chronic lung diseases
Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other neurological conditions
Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
Down syndrome
Heart conditions
HIV infection
Immunocompromised, or a weakened immune system
Mental health conditions (mood disorders, depression, schizophrenia spectrum disorders)
Overweight or obesity
Pregnancy
Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
Smoker, current or former
Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
Stroke or cerebrovascular disease (which affects blood flow to the brain)
Substance use disorders
Tuberculosis

Am I still protected against COVID-19 if I finished my vaccine series and am currently not eligible to get a booster dose or third dose?

If you are not eligible for a booster dose or a third dose – and do NOT have a weakened immune system or underlying health condition – but you HAVE finished receiving a 2-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a 1-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you still have strong protection against COVID-19. You are also still considered to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Can I get my flu shot while I get a COVID-19 booster shot, third shot, or the first round of my vaccine series?

Yes! You can get your flu shot at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine booster, third dose or the first round of your vaccine series.

Whitman-Walker Health is here to help and we’re just one phone call away! We hope you’ll give us a call. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting a booster or third dose and whether you are eligible. To access HIV/STI testing or to get your COVID-19 vaccine, booster or third dose at Max Robinson Center, or another Whitman-Walker location, call 202.797.4439.

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