Each year, the flu vaccine is updated because the influenza virus is constantly evolving. Influenza is monitored across the world to help create a better vaccine and, ultimately, better protect people. This is the same idea behind the new, FDA-approved COVID-19 boosters.
These updated boosters are intended to provide optimal protection against current strains of the virus. The new boosters contain an updated bivalent formula that both boosts immunity against the original coronavirus strain and protects against the newer Omicron variants causing most COVID-19 cases today.
The CDC recommends that everyone receive an updated booster as soon as they are eligible. One reason is because a surge in COVID-19 cases typically happens during the fall and winter. During these seasons, colder weather drives people indoors, increasing transmission of the virus from person to person. An updated booster will better protect you from the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron lineages that are predicted to continue circulating in the coming months.
When can I get an updated COVID-19 booster?
The updated COVID-19 boosters by Pfizer-BioNTech (available for people ages 12 and older) and Moderna (available for people ages 18 and older) are free and readily available in retail pharmacies and local health departments throughout the U.S. You can find a vaccine provider near you by visiting vaccines.gov or calling 1-800-232-0233.
You should get the booster at least two months after your last COVID-19 shot—whether it has been two months since your last booster dose or since completing the primary vaccination series. You can use this online tool to find out when to get your booster.
For people ages 12 and older, the updated booster replaces the original (monovalent) booster. Children ages 5 to 11 can still receive the original booster.
What if I’ve had COVID-19. Do I still need a booster?
The CDC recommends getting the updated booster for added protection, even if you’ve had COVID-19. This is because natural immunity varies from person to person and wanes over time. It is recommended that you receive a booster dose three months after testing positive for the virus.
I’m immunocompromised. When should I get the booster?
The CDC has updated COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot recommendations for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised (see CDC list for qualifying medical conditions). You can use this online tool to find out when to get your booster. However, it is recommended that you talk to your specialty provider first to determine if an additional dose or booster shot is needed at this time.
How well do the updated boosters work?
Multiple studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccination works well to prevent the worst outcomes from the disease: severe illness, hospitalization, and death. These studies also show that protection from the vaccine wanes over time. That’s why some people who have been vaccinated still get mild to moderate COVID-19.
However, studies also show that boosters increase our immune response and provide additional protection against the disease. There is also evidence that updated boosters customized to protect against newer virus variants provide even better protection against COVID-19 than the original boosters. Public health officials won’t fully know how well the new updated boosters work until they can measure how well people are protected against currently circulating virus variants.
Similar to getting an annual flu shot, it’s expected that we may periodically need new COVID-19 boosters that are tailored to protect against the virus causing most COVID-19 cases at that time.
Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters is the safest and best way to restore protection that has decreased since previous vaccinations, providing better protection against newer variants.