Your Guide to New COVID Boosters: Staying Protected This Fall
With fall 2023 now underway, the arrival of new COVID boosters presents an opportunity to enhance protection ahead of the holiday season. The updated shots target the latest Omicron subvariants and are recommended for those who completed their primary vaccine series.
What’s New About the COVID Boosters?
The recently authorized mRNA vaccine boosters from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech provide protection against both the original COVID-19 strain as well as the newer variants. BA.2.86 and EG.5 strains account for a majority of current infections.
Previous vaccine boosters targeted only the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. But as the virus has evolved, those original boosters gradually became less effective against emerging variants like Omicron. That makes the new mRNA vaccine shots an important update.
The updated targeting boosters help restore waning immunity by exposing the immune system to versions of the virus closer to what’s currently circulating. Getting one of the new COVID boosters prompts your body to produce antibodies that can neutralize both original and newer strains.
Why the New COVID Boosters Matter
You may feel fully vaccinated after your initial vaccine series plus a booster. But immunity does fade over time. After getting boosted over five months ago, your protection has likely waned significantly.
Unvaccinated individuals remain most vulnerable to severe COVID outcomes. However, even vaccinated people benefit from the immunity boost a mRNA vaccine shot provides. This extra defense is especially crucial for those at higher risk like seniors and the immunocompromised.
A mRNA vaccine booster strengthens your immune wall before an expected winter COVID surge coinciding with flu season. It provides your best shot at avoiding infection and serious illness.
How Well Will the New COVID Boosters Work?
It’s difficult to predict exactly how effective the new boosters will be. Vaccine effectiveness often depends on multiple factors like virus evolution, waning immunity, and individual immune response.
Early data indicates the updated shots trigger increased levels of neutralizing antibodies. One recent study found the new mRNA vaccines boosters from Moderna and Pfizer generated a nearly 9-fold rise in antibodies against Omicron subvariants compared to the original booster.
Experts are optimistic the new mRNA COVID boosters will provide better protection versus earlier versions. However, we likely won’t know definitive effectiveness estimates until after the shots are in wider use.
Balancing Risks and Benefits of the New Boosters
As with any vaccine, there are potential side effects to consider. So far, research indicates the updated COVID boosters are very safe overall.
Mild effects like soreness, fatigue, headache and muscle aches are possible but usually resolve within 1-2 days. Serious adverse events are extremely rare.
Health officials emphasize the benefits of new COVID boosters still far outweigh potential risks for most people. Preventing infection, hospitalization and long COVID through vaccination is still the top priority.
Talk to your doctor about your personal risk profile. But for most people, getting the new booster is recommended for optimal protection into the fall and winter months.
Comparing COVID Boosters to Flu Shots
Unlike COVID vaccines which must be reformulated against new variants, the flu shot offers protection through a different mechanism. Flu shots contain strains of the influenza virus that experts predict will dominate each flu season based on surveillance data.
The COVID virus has mutated significantly faster than influenza. This has required more frequent booster updates to maintain effectiveness against emerging variants like Omicron and its sublineages.
Both flu and COVID shots are important layers of protection recommended each fall. But their formulations differ based on the viruses’ evolution and transmission patterns.
Guidance for Those Who Had COVID Recently
If you had COVID-19 recently, experts recommend delaying your booster shot by 3 months. This guidance comes from the CDC and is based on ample evidence that infection itself acts as a temporary immune boost.
Natural immunity wanes over 90-120 days. But allowing your immune response to recover from COVID generally makes waiting 3 months for your next vaccine dose advisable for optimal benefit.
Vaccine Accessibility Considerations
Health authorities are aiming to make the updated COVID boosters as accessible as possible. According to the HHS, availability won’t be limited to just pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Many school-based clinics, rural health centers, long-term care facilities and more will also administer the shots.
Uninsured individuals can get free vaccines through health centers assisted by the HRSA. Ensuring equitable booster access remains a priority.
Who Should Get the New COVID Booster This Fall?
The CDC recommends new COVID boosters for anyone age 12 or older who completed a primary vaccine series. This encompasses:
- Those 12+ who got the original Pfizer or Moderna shots
- Individuals 18+ who received Johnson & Johnson immunization
If it’s been over two months since your last COVID vaccine dose, you’re eligible for the new booster. Get boosted as soon as you can for the most robust protection through fall and winter.
Young children under 12 remain ineligible for boosters until approved by the FDA and CDC at a future date. But their caregivers should get boosted to provide protection.
How to Get Your Fall COVID Booster
Monitor vaccine availability in your area through resources like vaccines.gov. Many pharmacies, healthcare providers, and health departments have supplies of the new COVID booster shots.
Speak with your doctor about the best timing for your next booster based on your health profile and risk factors. But for most people, September through November is ideal for a defense boost before holiday gatherings and winter virus spikes.
Make an appointment online or by phone to get boosted efficiently. Allow extra time before important events in case of temporary vaccine side effects. Stay hydrated after your shot and take over-the-counter meds as needed to manage soreness or fever.
Where to Get Your New COVID Boosters This Fall in New Jersey
The new COVID boosters are available at many healthcare providers and pharmacies in New Jersey. Here are some options to find an appointment:
- CVS – Schedule a COVID vaccine appointment online or by phone. Many CVS locations offer same day appointments.
- Rite Aid – Book your updated COVID booster through Rite Aid’s online scheduler. Walk-ins may also be accepted.
- Walgreens – Use Walgreens website or mobile app to schedule your fall booster. Appointments are recommended but walk-ins welcome.
- Walmart – Find a Walmart pharmacy near you administering the new COVID boosters. Make an appointment online.
Check back often as appointment availability is updated frequently. Have your insurance card and photo ID ready for your visit. Wear a short sleeve shirt to allow easy vaccine access.
What to Expect from the New COVID Boosters
Safety continues to be rigorously assessed with the updated boosters. Potential side effects mirror those of previous shots:
- Pain, redness, swelling at injection site
- Muscle or joint aches
- Mild fever
These symptoms are typically mild to moderate and resolve within 1-2 days. Serious adverse reactions are very rare. Health officials emphasize the individual and community protection benefits still far exceed potential risks.
Arming yourself with an updated booster prepares your immune system for whatever this next phase of the pandemic may bring as we head into colder months. Stay proactive for your health.