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Moderna booster shot update: New guidance, programs, stats to know as omicron arrives

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On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a new campaign to bring COVID vaccine boosters to 100 million people who are still eligible to receive them. Biden’s campaign, which also includes testing kit reimbursement and stricter travel rules for international travelers, is driven by the emergence of the omicron variant, which has been confirmed in California and Minnesota over the last two days, and which has been detected in 30 countries.

While much is still unknown about the vaccine response to the new omicron variant, health professionals believe that booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer could help slow the spread — along with hospitalization and deaths — as the effects of the vaccine weaken over time.

Scientists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now consider booster shots part of being fully protected for people who received two doses of Moderna or Pfizer after six months, and one dose of Johnson & Johnson after two months. 

The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization, and those who are unvaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized if infected. With the federal vaccine mandates halted by a court order, Biden is turning to other measures to get booster shots administered. The government has also ordered 13 million courses of antiviral drugs in anticipation of higher case loads as the omicron and delta variants continue to spread.

Here’s what you need to know about the Moderna booster, including its side effects. For more details, here’s the latest on COVID-19 vaccines for kids, how you can get a free COVID-19 test kit soon, how to get a free ride to your booster appointment, and what to know about breakthrough infections. 

How do you know when it’s time to get a booster shot?

If you got Pfizer or Moderna, six months after the date of your second shot listed on your vaccination card is when you’re eligible to receive your booster dose. The CDC and other health authorities are now urging you to get your booster as soon as you’re eligible, to keep your immune response against omicron, delta and other COVID variants as strong as possible. Two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the time for a booster (more below).

On Dec. 2, Biden also outlined a plan for Medicare to contact the 64 million people it serves and for AARP to proactively reach out to its 38 million senior members. Pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, RiteAid and others will also contact people who got a vaccine at their retail stores when it’s time to schedule another dose.

Is Moderna making a booster shot for omicron?

Scientists worry the omicron variant could spread more quickly than the now-dominant delta variant because of the number of mutations the new strain has compared to delta. Moderna is currently working on an omicron-specific booster vaccine, along with testing a COVID-19 vaccine that could protect against several mutated strains of the coronavirus.

First, the company — and every other vaccine-maker around the world — is testing the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine against omicron, but it’ll be weeks before lab tests show evidence of how well Moderna protects people from the new variant. 

As part of its booster testing, Moderna is investigating whether a 100-microgram dose of its booster provides better protection against the omicron variant. The Moderna booster authorized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a 50-microgram dose, while the first two shots were each 100 micrograms.

If Moderna needs to make a new vaccine modified for the variant, it could be available early in 2022.

Who can get a Moderna booster shot right now?

As of Nov. 19, all US adults — those age 18 and older — are eligible to get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. They qualify if it’s been at least six months since they’ve received a second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster dose after two months. Adults are encouraged to get whatever booster dose is available to them, even if that means mixing and matching vaccine boosters (more below), in other words, getting a different booster shot than their original vaccination.

What are side effects of Moderna’s booster?

According to the CDC, those who got the Moderna booster dose reported fewer reactions than they did after the second dose of the vaccine. In its study, the CDC found 95% of those who got Moderna for the first round of vaccine shots chose Moderna for the booster dose.

Is it safe to mix and match vaccine and booster brands? Yes

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized mixing COVID-19 boosters, which in the US means Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Anyone eligible for a booster can get any of the available brands of coronavirus vaccines. If you initially received Johnson & Johnson and it’s been two months or longer since you received the initial dose, you’ll be able to get the Moderna or Pfizer booster. If you received Moderna or Pfizer for your first two shots, you could pick any authorized vaccine available to you — including J&J — if you qualify and it’s been six months or longer since your second shot.

Is the Moderna vaccine booster the same as the full COVID-19 doses?

Yes, almost. As with Pfizer’s booster, the third Moderna shot will be the same vaccine as the first two doses, except it’ll be a half dose. Moderna is also working on a combination shot that includes this year’s flu vaccine and its COVID-19 booster vaccine, but that’s not available right now.

Where can I get my Moderna booster shot?

According to the White House, boosters are available at roughly 80,000 places across the country, including over 40,000 local pharmacies. Some 90% of Americans have a vaccine site within five miles of where they live. You can check to see which vaccines are available where, or call 800-232-0233 for vaccine information.

As part of a government program, you can also text your zip code to 438829. We tried it out and instantly received a list of two local Walgreens pharmacies with a link to the government site above, and the phone number. The text response will also help you organize a ride, and you can register for regular text updates about COVID.

Is the Moderna COVID-19 booster shot still free?

All booster shots will be free, regardless of immigration or health insurance status. However, depending on where you get your booster shot — for example, at a local pharmacy — you may be asked to log your insurance status. You may be asked to provide your insurance card information, including your name, date of birth and membership number. You will not be charged for your COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot.

Will I need another COVID booster shot?

The CDC updated its guidance to say that in 2022, some immunocompromised people will be able to get a fourth COVID-19 booster shot. It’s unclear if other groups will need to get a fourth dose at this time, but guidance could change in light of the omicron variant. 

For more on coronavirus treatments and vaccines, here’s what we know about monoclonal antibody treatments, the new federal vaccine mandates and why some people may not want the shot.

What does the Moderna booster shot do?

A COVID-19 booster shot — whether from Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson — tops off your immune response and guards against a breakthrough COVID-19 infection as the vaccine’s effectiveness decreases over time.

Recent studies of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines show that their effectiveness can begin to wane after six months. Moderna said early data suggests that those who received the Moderna vaccine in 2020 are showing a higher rate of breakthrough COVID infections than those vaccinated this year, suggesting the need for a booster to maintain high levels of protection.

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