By Assemblymember Akilah Weber, M.D. 

The holiday season is here. As you make plans to celebrate and gather with friends and family, keep COVID-19 in mind and take steps to prevent its spread. It is important that we continue to protect our families and communities – especially those 65+, those with compromised immune systems and others at high risk. If you or someone in your home has a medical condition or works around other people, get a booster.

Recently, the CDC authorized boosters for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. Public health experts recommend boosters for eligible individuals who meet a certain criterion, and California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly recently recommended that anyone 18 years or older should get a booster if they feel they would benefit from one, especially with holiday gatherings coming. 

The most important thing we need to continue to do during the holidays is get vaccinated. The highly effective and safe vaccines remain our best weapon against spreading COVID-19. Naturally, there will still be questions about the boosters. Here’s what you need to know:

What is the booster vaccine and why do you need it?

The booster is an additional dose of the coronavirus vaccine intended to improve the response of the initial vaccine series. COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in lowering the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. Boosters help maintain your immunity and help keep you from getting COVID-19. 

Who is eligible for a booster? 

Fully vaccinated individuals 18 years and older are recommended to get their booster dose if they feel at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Additionally, people 65 and older, those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease should get your booster to strengthen protection against COVID-19 as soon as you can. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get your booster dose two months after your initial dose. I recommend contacting your primary health care provider if you are unsure of your eligibility. 

In addition, if you live or work in high-risk settings you are eligible. This includes first responders, teachers and school support staff, daycare workers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, correction workers, U.S. postal workers, public transit workers and grocery store workers. And if someone in your home is at increased risk for COVID-19 due to health or job, then all members of the household over 18 should get a booster, too. 

Do you need to get the same brand of vaccine as your original vaccination? 

No, it is safe to get any vaccine brand for your booster. It’s your choice to get Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. 

Do boosters contain the same makeup as the existing vaccines? 

Absolutely. The booster shots have the same formulation as the current COVID-19 vaccines with one exception. The Moderna booster is half the dose of the vaccine people received for their initial series. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson contain the same dose as the initial vaccine. 

What are the side effects of getting a booster?

We have seen similar side effects to that of the initial series. This includes fever, headache, fatigue and pain at the injection site, and overall, are mild and moderate. 

Since boosters are being recommended, should you assume the vaccines are not working? 

It’s common with many vaccines to get boosters to help strengthen your immunity. As time passes and more information is gathered, health experts are starting to see reduced protection, especially among certain populations, against mild and moderate disease. But it is important to remember that the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be safe and effective in preventing severe disease and death and is our path out of the pandemic.

Are you still considered fully vaccinated if you don’t get the booster? 

Yes, everyone is still fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or two weeks after a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. Consider the booster as an extra layer of protection.

When will everyone be eligible for a booster? 

Experts continue to look at data to understand how well the vaccines are working for different populations, particularly when considering new variants, like the Delta. We do think additional populations may be recommended to receive the booster. 

Where can people get more information about the booster and make an appointment? 

Visit the state’s websites at www.vaccinateall58.com or www.myturn.ca.gov for more information on the safety and effectiveness and make a vaccination appointment.