FAQs: COVID-19 Booster Shots

Editor’s note: This article originally ran September 6, 2022, and was updated October 17, 2022 and May 1, 2023. 

In many ways, life has moved on from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus is still circulating and new variants continue to emerge. One way to keep you and your family healthy and avoid disrupting your daily life is to make sure you’re up to date on booster shots.

The currently available booster is a bivalent vaccine, which means it has two parts, the original vaccine plus a newer vaccine that provides coverage against omicron variants that remain the dominant virus being spread, says UNC Health infectious diseases specialist David Wohl, MD.

“It is an updated COVID-19 booster that is designed to provide broader protection against becoming infected with COVID-19 compared to the previous, monovalent booster vaccines,” he says. “Nothing is being taken away, only added.”

Here are answers to common questions about the new booster.

Who is eligible for a booster shot?

If you haven’t had the bivalent booster, which first became available in early September 2022, then you should get one. A second bivalent shot is now recommended for the following people:

  • Those age 65 years and older and at least four months since their last bivalent vaccine.
  • Immunocompromised people at least two months from their last bivalent vaccine.
  • For children, the recommendations regarding a second bivalent shot are complicated and based on age of the child, the number and the types of vaccines previously received. Parents and caregivers should check with their child’s primary care provider for guidance.

If you have never received a bivalent shot, then you should get one to keep your protection against COVID-19 strong, especially before any late summer, fall or early winter surge. Those eligible for a first bivalent include:

  • Adults and children age 5 and older: If you had your final dose of the primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one of those booster shots more than two months ago, you’re eligible for the updated booster shot.
  • Children ages 6 months to 4 years old who received all three doses of the Pfizer primary series should get an updated Pfizer shot to stay up to date. Children ages 6 months to 5 years who received the two-dose Moderna vaccine are eligible for a booster two months after the second dose.

Health officials expect most children and adults will eventually get an updated COVID-19 shot every fall, like the flu shot.

For complete information on booster eligibility, visit the CDC COVID-19 boosters site.

Does this new booster entirely replace the other boosters?

Yes. The FDA has discontinued the previous monovalent COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna boosters now that the new formulation is available.

Newer variants continue to emerge but all, so far, have been derived from the variants that the bivalent vaccine was designed to protect against.  Research shows that the bivalent vaccine is effective against severe illness and hospitalization from all the variants to date, Dr. Wohl says.

“The new boosters provide greater protection from infection than the original vaccines that were not designed to tackle new variants,” Dr. Wohl says. “If you’re eligible for a booster now, take the booster. We have gotten to where we are now because we have developed good immunity to the COVID-19 virus. We can continue to enjoy the benefits as long as we maintain that immunity.”

Which brand of updated booster should I receive?

The bivalent booster you receive does not need to be from the same manufacturer that produced the vaccine you received for your primary vaccination or any previous booster.

“There is no real difference between the Pfizer and Moderna shots,” Dr. Wohl says. “You should get the one that is available to you.”

How long should I wait to get the new booster if I recently had COVID-19?

Even if you’ve had COVID-19 recently, experts recommend getting a booster two months after you were infected to build up even stronger immunity, Dr. Wohl says.

“People infected with BA.5 recently probably now have good immunity to this particular variant and those that have followed. With the bivalent shot, they can boost this protection and likely expand the ability to respond to other variants, perhaps even those coming along,” Dr. Wohl says.

Where can I get a booster shot?

The booster is available at local pharmacies, doctors’ offices and community health centers.

“Check with your local pharmacy or your clinic to see if they have the bivalent vaccines,” Dr. Wohl says.

Can I still get infected with COVID-19 if I get the new booster?

The boosters offer more protection against breakthrough infections of the latest variants than the previous shots. However, that does not mean they are a guarantee against COVID-19 infection. You can still get COVID-19 after getting the booster, but you’re more protected against serious illness.

That means the precautions of the pandemic are still important: Stay home when you’re sick, use at at-home test if you have symptoms and wear a mask if you’re in a high-risk group or situation.

Visit unchealthcare.org/vaccine for the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.